Pitt and Mellon Foundation announce $ 100 million bioproduction and research center in Hazelwood Green

The University of Pittsburgh will build a massive bioproduction facility in Hazelwood Green with a $ 100 million donation from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The project, known as Pitt BioForge, will bring all stages of life science innovation together under one roof to develop new cell and gene therapies and other treatments and products, according to the university.

“Pittsburgh is poised to become the next global center for life sciences and biotechnology, and this gift propels us on this path like never before,” said Anantha Shekhar, Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen deans of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in a press release announcing the donation.

Pitt BioForge will provide a home for emerging technologies and therapies that will be manufactured and used in clinical trials. This means that emerging biologic therapies could be developed and launched entirely from Pittsburgh.

The facility will bridge the gap between emerging research at Pitt and clinical trials at UPMC, according to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

“It will turn knowledge from research into products,” he said. “The missing ingredient was the commercial anchor. The ability to manufacture and produce… these new biological therapies such as cells and viral vectors for gene therapy and monoclonal antibodies, ”he said.

Having a manufacturing center geographically close to the research is essential, Gallagher said. Modified cellular tissue does not travel as well as steel and metal products that were once made in the same neighborhood.

“Those fragile cell lines, you want to be right next to the hospital systems that deliver these things. And it helps if you can be right next to the research teams modifying these cells. “

Pitt’s research on the verge of moving to BioForge includes modified gene and cell therapy, micro and nano-antibody development, and delivery technologies.

Dr Leah Byrne, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Pitt, said if her research moved to Pitt BioForge, therapies could roll out faster and more effectively. Byrne is developing gene therapy for inherited retinal diseases that cause blindness.

“Our goal is really to translate the therapies that we make in the lab into a clinical setting,” she said. “And one of the biggest bottlenecks in the business is definitely production.”

The therapies and products from Pitt BioForge will be delivered in the specialized hospital systems of UPMC. Doctors and researchers will be able to work hand in hand to develop and test new products.

But, Gallagher notes, the healthcare system will also advise Pitt BioForge on how to price its products.

“We have all seen shocking stories about the cost of these deliveries. UPMC is also a paying system, so it could negotiate insurance and reimbursement coverage, ”he said.

The UPMC applauded the announcement on Wednesday.

“We look forward to bringing our bedside expertise and unique clinical perspectives to continue to develop new technologies and treatments that will revolutionize medical care,” said Leslie Davis, President and CEO of UPMC.

The $ 100 million donation is the largest single project in the history of the Mellon Foundation. The University will receive $ 10 million per year over the next decade.

Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, said the donation underscores the foundation’s long-term interest in making Pittsburgh a hub for biomedical innovation. One goal, said Reiman, which has been highlighted during the pandemic.

Last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced a shortage of monoclonal antibodies and decided to ration state supplies.

“What COVID did in this case was just to reinforce this idea of ​​the importance of manufacturing in your own backyard,” he said.

The 200,000 to 250,000 square foot facility will be built near the historic Mill 19 site, which is currently occupied by the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute and the Manufacturing Futures Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as the company of autonomous vehicles Aptiv.

“The old mills carried molten steel across the hot metal bridge and now [you will] get cancer treatments made and transported up the hill to patients, ”Reiman said.

Reiman expects Pitt BioForge to become a mainstay of the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at Hazelwood Green Development and help keep new technologies and businesses coming from Pitt, southwestern Pennsylvania.

Shekhar agreed.

“The talent we have in this region is unmatched,” Shekhar said. “Our shared vision of creating an engine of innovation in medicine and education with UPMC, industry and the Hazelwood community will drive new solutions and opportunities for generations to come. “

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