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Pitt and UPMC Enterprises partner to accelerate research commercialization and build Pittsburgh’s life sciences economy

  • Innovation and Research
  • Our City/Our Campus

The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC have long partnered to translate scientific discoveries to clinical practice.

The special relationship between Pitt, which is consistently ranked among national leaders for federal research funding for the life sciences, and UPMC, one of the country’s largest integrated health care providers, has attracted innovative researchers and clinicians to Pittsburgh that have produced record numbers of licenses and startups for Pitt-developed technologies in recent years.

In 2020, UPMC Enterprises’ Translational Sciences group committed to invest $1 billion in the next generation of life-changing medicines, medical devices and diagnostics. It has provided sponsored research support to over 40 Pitt projects to translate basic research breakthroughs into clinically and commercially viable technologies.

In collaboration with faculty founders and Pitt’s Innovation Institute, several startups have been built around these emerging Pitt technologies, including BlueSphere Bio, Generian, Avista and Novasenta. These companies, which are providing novel approaches to treating cancer, blindness and rare diseases, have all received multi-million-dollar investments from UPMC Enterprises. Several have also signed significant collaborations with major pharmaceutical companies, thanks to coordinated efforts by Pitt and UPMC to meet the needs of the startups, the researchers and Big Pharma.

Creating a bigger impact

Recognizing the opportunity to drive even more impact from Pitt research, leadership from Pitt’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) and UPMC Enterprises, the innovation, commercialization, and venture capital arm of UPMC, are strengthening their alliance, which will benefit both patients and the Pittsburgh regional economy.

“We took a deep dive to examine the processes by which Pitt and UPMC Enterprises collaborate around innovation and commercialization,” said Evan Facher, Pitt’s vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship and associate dean for commercial translation in the School of Medicine. “Our leadership teams recognized the opportunity to better align our operations to drive impact from research at an increased scale and efficiency.”

“Together with the Innovation Institute team, we’ve looked specifically at how we can better work together through improved communication, processes, and standardized agreements,” said Jeanne Cunicelli, president of UPMC Enterprises. “Our teams share a common goal of bringing life-saving therapies to patients in need, and we believe these efforts will help accelerate research collaborations and subsequent commercialization activities.”

Now, to accelerate the translation of more Pitt innovations in specific therapeutic areas, UPMC Enterprises Translational Sciences has launched a new request for proposals for Pitt research faculty developing therapeutics in the areas of women’s health, autoimmune disease and neurological diseases. For successful projects, UPMC will provide up to $1 million in funding for translational research for up to two years, along with other resources to help Pitt innovators accelerate their discoveries. The OIE’s Office of Industry and Economic Partnerships (OIEP) is coordinating the RFP process with UPMC Enterprises.

The enhanced Pitt-UPMC relationship is happening at a time when the resources and infrastructure for building Pittsburgh’s life science economy are also expanding rapidly.

Late in 2021, the R.K. Mellon Foundation announced the biggest single-project donation in its 74-year history — $100 million — to build Pitt BioForge, a biotech research and development facility along the Monongahela River at Hazelwood Green. The facility will produce cutting-edge cell and gene therapies and other treatments applying the most advanced research manufacturing capabilities. Included in the development will be space for industry partners to collaborate alongside Pitt researchers and startups. BioForge’s presence is expected to lead to additional investment opportunities for Pitt and UPMC.

Coming fully online this year is The Assembly, Pitt’s new 250,000-square-foot research facility in Bloomfield across from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. This facility will leverage the University’s research and clinical expertise in the fields of immunotherapy and cancer research, such as the work behind Pitt-UPMC spinouts BlueSphere Bio and Novasenta. The facility’s developer, Wexford Associates, developed an additional 100,000-square-foot facility for industry partners to work in proximity to Pitt and UPMC researchers and clinicians.

Nearing completion is the UPMC Mercy Pavilion in the Uptown neighborhood between Downtown and Oakland. The nine-story, 410,000-square-foot vision restoration and rehabilitation facility will serve patients who need physical rehabilitation and patients who have vision impairment or who have diseases of the eye. The facility will also include a collaborative space for clinicians, researchers, educators and industry partners.

“We are beginning to see the building of a critical mass for the region’s life science economy similar to what occurred for the robotics and artificial intelligence sectors,” Facher said. “It is our goal to put Pittsburgh’s life science economy on an equal footing in the near future. Enhancing the partnership between Pitt and UPMC is a critical component to making that happen.”

Get more details on the request for proposals.


— Mike Yeomans, photography by Aimee Obidzinski