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November 21, 2001

Pitt, CMU part of plan for $600 million expansion of local bioscience industry

This week a group of regional organizations, including Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, endorsed a $600 million, 10-year blueprint to boost the region's bioscience industry.

Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA), the plan maintains that full funding for the project would create at least 5,000 jobs in the bioscience area, along with more than 10,000 indirect jobs; 90-plus regional start-up bioscience companies, and an influx of $334 million in federal and other funding.

Titled the Pittsburgh BioVenture/Life Sciences Greenhouse Plan, the proposal petitions the state for $40 million of the $100 million the legislature earmarked last June from tobacco settlement funds for the creation of three regional "life sciences greenhouses."

Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and UPMC Health System are expected to be major players in the greenhouse plan's implementation, according to Walter Plosila of Battelle Memorial Institute's Technology Partnership Practice in Cleveland, who led the research and analysis behind the 159-page prospectus.

"The Pittsburgh BioVenture/Life Sciences Greenhouse prospectus builds upon the region's exceptional strengths in biomedical research and clinical care, as well as engineering and information technology," Plosila said in a Nov. 19 PRA statement. "The world-class work underway at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and UPMC Health System within the local bioscience and IT industry and elsewhere offer a tremendous advantage."

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon co-chaired the steering committee that recommended the Battelle plan.

The two university leaders jointly launched a bioscience collaboration, called the Pittsburgh BioVenture, last April. That planning effort expanded into a regional economic development strategy following enactment of the greenhouse legislation signed into law last June, Nordenberg told the University Times.

"Over the last two years, representatives of Pitt and CMU have been looking for ways to strengthen our bioscience programs if we partnered," Nordenberg said. "In the beginning we hoped for a university-to-university collaboration which would benefit us both. As we pushed forward with that effort, the Ridge administration announced its plans to fund regional life sciences greenhouses, and that decision seemed to mesh perfectly with the efforts we had started."

Nordenberg said that the greenhouse plan was a much broader initiative than the Pitt-Carnegie Mellon collaboration. "It is an exciting opportunity not only for the two universities but for the region to strengthen the economy, advance science and improve our health care. The new greenhouse will draw on our strengths in the health sciences and engineering and arts and sciences and will be especially valuable when researchers reach the commercialization stage."

In the PRA statement, CMU President Cohon said, "The BioVenture/Life Sciences Greenhouse strategy is strong because it is comprehensive. It approaches the development of our bioscience potential as a whole, spanning the research, technology, commercialization and economic development environments and emphasizing the need to combine a sense of urgency with a long-term view of the region's opportunity."

County Chief Executive Jim Roddey and Mayor Tom Murphy, also steering committee members, supported the plan. Sixty-two regional organizations, spanning industry, academia, health services providers and economic development groups, also backed the proposal.

To oversee and coordinate the project, a not-for-profit organization will be formed with a 10-person board representing industry, academia and civic leadership, as well as ex officio members from state government.

The Battelle prospectus calls for development of four core research areas: drug discovery tools and targets; medical devices and diagnostics; tissue/organ engineering and regenerative medicine, and therapeutic strategies for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Strategies call for incentives to link research to technology and commercialization within the region; to develop entrepreneurial-based bioscience enterprises that would grow the bioscience industry here, and to build the capacity of the region's economic development organizations to help bioscience firms relocate, expand or start up in western Pennsylvania.

The immediate priorities of the plan are the establishment of the not-for-profit coordinating group, the recruitment of management to lead the group and fund-raising.

In the short-term, the Pittsburgh BioVenture initiative will try to raise an additional $238 million in public and private monies, to supplement the $40 million requested from the state.

According to the plan, the region is committed to creating 1,350 new jobs in the bioscience industries over the next five years, including 900 jobs in existing companies, 290 jobs from new start-ups and 160 jobs from companies re-locating from outside the region. In addition, 50-plus new faculty and research jobs are expected to be created.

The plan calls for investing $270 million over 10 years in new construction and equipment costs, including the construction of three new buildings, two at Pitt and one at Carnegie Mellon, to house the greenhouse initiative. The plan earmarks $206 million for an "opportunity fund" to attract start-up companies and prominent research faculty.

Nordenberg said, "Our plans at this point regarding new facilities are in general terms. We have a parcel of property on Fifth Avenue that is the most likely site for a new facility, but we're still having construction professionals assess costs and nothing is set yet.

"Of those 50 or so new faculty, I anticipate that some would be appointed at Pitt and some at CMU and some jointly," he added.

The full text of the Pittsburgh BioVenture/Life Sciences Greenhouse Plan is located at:

The Commonwealth is expected to announce its funding decisions before the end of 2001.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 7

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