UPMC, Pitt plan cen­ter to cre­ate new drugs for im­munother­apy

Old Ford build­ing to house re­search lab

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By David Tem­ple­ton

In the mas­sive brick and stone build­ing where Model T Fords were once as­sem­bled, the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh and UPMC are plan­ning to do some­thing sim­i­lar with the im­munother­apy treat­ments they de­velop.

From Model T’s that de­fined Amer­i­can in­dus­tri­al­ism, to im­mune T cells that are trans­form­ing can­cer treat­ments, the two an­nounced a col­lab­o­ra­tion to turn 5000 Baum Blvd. in Bloom­field into the UPMC Im­mune Trans­plant and Ther­apy Cen­ter — a modern-day method of turn­ing drug de­vel­op­ment into an assem­bly-line process, of sorts.

In a novel ap­proach, UPMC and Pitt plan to de­velop im­munother­apy drugs and treat­ments and use UPMC’s $200 mil­lion in­vest­ment to usher them through hu­man clin­i­cal tri­als and the lengthy U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proval process — an ex­pen­sive process tra­di­tion­ally paid for by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies.

In this case, they hope to de­velop drugs and con­trol the en­tire test­ing and ap­proval process, from the re­search bench­top to the pa­tient’s bed­side. That vast gulf be­tween re­search and mar­ket­place has been de­scribed as “the val­ley of death” from which few re­search projects emerge as suc­cess­ful treat­ments.

The two do em­pha­size the phil­an­thropic as­pect of de­vel­op­ing new and im­proved treat­ments for can­cer, au­toim­mune and in­flam­ma­tory

dis­eases along with ways to slow down ag­ing and avoid donor-or­gan re­jec­tion.

But there’s fur­ther fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and reap­ing the full fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of drug de­vel­op­ment.

UPMC pres­i­dent and CEO Jef­frey Ro­moff said a Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion re­port said Pitts­burgh has failed to cash in on the life sciences — the knowl­edge base of its uni­ver­si­ties and health care sys­tems. “We here at the uni­ver­sity and at UPMC have ev­ery in­ten­tion of cash­ing in, such that this part­ner­ship will bring not only cures, not only new ther­a­pies, but it will bring multi­bil­lion dol­lars of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” Mr. Ro­moff said dur­ing a Tues­day news con­fer­ence at the pro­posed new cen­ter.

He quickly de­parted the news con­fer­ence and re­fused to take ques­tions. But Pitt chan­cel­lor Pa­trick D. Gal­lagher said the chal­lenge for re­search uni­ver­si­ties is cross­ing that “val­ley of death” and turn good med­i­cal re­search into vi­able treat­ments. UPMC’s in­vest­ment “will ad­dress that gap,” he said. “To­day opens an ex­cit­ing new chap­ter in our abil­ity to part­ner with oth­ers to ad­vance the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh’s mis­sion of us­ing knowl­edge for so­ci­ety’s gain,” Mr. Gal­lagher said. “We are cre­at­ing an un­prece­dented ecosys­tem — one that con­nects ba­sic sci­ence dis­cov­er­ies from Pitt with life-chang­ing ad­vances from UPMC while lever­ag­ing the cat­alytic power of in­dus­try part­ners. It’s a com­bi­na­tion that will trans­form im­munother­apy care and help us tackle some of medicine’s great­est chal­lenges.”

Pitt and UPMC also will seek to trans­form the 200,000-square-foot build­ing, con­structed in 1915, into a ful­crum of an in­no­va­tion district— eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment based on the life sciences, re­search and cre­ative ideas in the Bloom­field-Shady side area.

In that sense, there’s also hope the cen­ter will serve as a mag­net that at­tracts “com­pa­nies that want to be a cup of cof­fee away from the new cen­ter,” Mr. Gal­lagher said. Pitt has cho­sen Wex­ford Sci­ence + Tech­nol­ogy LLC to trans­form the ware­house into a re­search cen­ter that also serves as cen­ter­piece of a new in­no­va­tion district.

The Bal­ti­more-based com­pany works with uni­ver­si­ties, aca­demic med­i­cal cen­ters and ma­jor re­search in­sti­tu­tions on cre­at­ing in­no­va­tion dis­tricts. UPMC orig­i­nally pur­chased the build­ing in 2006 for $10 mil­lion, with pos­si­ble plans to make it a home for can­cer re­search. It ini­tially pro­posed to tear down the build­ing and build a new one but en­coun­tered neigh­bor­hood op­po­si­tion that suc­ceeded in pre­serv­ing it. Now, 12 years later, Pitt will as­sume the re­spon­si­bil­ity of con­vert­ing the Ford ware­house into a re­search cen­ter.

Con­struc­tion costs are not yet known, but Mr. Gal­lagher said it will cost $100 mil­lion and likely higher, with cre­ation of 1,000 to 2,000 con­struc­tion jobs and a two-year timetable for com­ple­tion. The re­sult will be a “world­class space for labs, of­fices, startup com­pa­nies and in­dus­try part­ners” with the ma­jor fo­cus on med­i­cal re­search lead­ing to new drugs and treat­ments in trans­plan­ta­tion, can­cer, au­toim­mu­nity, ag­ing and chronic dis­ease. There’s ad­di­tional hope that re­search dis­cov­er­ies will gen­er­ate spinoff com­pa­nies, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and new jobs that Pitts­burgh Mayor Bill Pe­duto said would in­volve “ev­ery­one from Ph.Ds. to GEDs,” re­fer­ring to those who even­tu­ally earn high school diplo­mas.

The new cen­ter rep­re­sents the lat­est in a string of an­nounced health-based eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Pitts­burgh and West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. On Nov. 5, UPMC an­nounced plans to in­vest $2 bil­lion in spe­cialty hos­pi­tals con­structed at ex­ist­ing Pitts­burgh hos­pi­tals, in­clud­ing a UPMC Vi­sion and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pi­tal, a 300,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity near UPMC Mercy in the city’s Up­town sec­tion; UPMC Heart and Trans­plant Hos­pi­tal at UPMC Pres­by­te­rian, a 15-story, 620bed fa­cil­ity in Oak­land; and UPMC Hill­man Can­cer Hos­pi­tal at UPMC Shady­side, a 240,000-square-foot pa­tient tower and 160,00-square-foot out­pa­tient cen­ter, near UPMC Shady­side.

The Al­legheny Health Net­work also an­nounced more than $1 bil­lion in con­struc­tion-plans last fall to de­velop a 160-bed acute-care cen­ter in Pine, along with four mi­cro-hos­pi­tals through­out the Pitts­burgh area, with ad­di­tional in­vest­ments in can­cer care in Erie. Specif­i­cally, the new UPMC cen­ter will pin­point “the most promis­ing ad­vances in im­munol­ogy that are ca­pa­ble of en­hanc­ing hu­man health” through “a con­certed ef­fort to har­ness the power of the hu­man im­mune sys­tem to treat and cure a wide range of dis­eases,” a project re­lease ex­plains. UPMC and Pitt al­ready have many im­munother­apy re­search projects un­der­way.

Steven D. Shapiro, UPMC ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, said six re­searchers al­ready were suc­cess­fully re­cruited to work at the new cen­ter and will be “em­pow­ered” to add to their staff, among other job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The cen­ter is im­por­tant, he said, be­cause im­munother­apy re­mains in its in­fancy, with new drugs al­ready show­ing suc­cess in treat­ing forms of lym­phoma and leukemia and other can­cers, although many chal­lenges re­main. “Def­i­nitely, the door is par­tially open, and we want to kick it wide open,” he said.

Steph Cham­bers/Post-Gazette

County Ex­ec­u­tive Rich Fitzger­ald, cen­ter, and Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh Chan­cel­lor Pa­trick Gal­lagher min­gle with Bloom­field Cit­i­zens Coun­cil head Janet Cer­cone Scul­lion on Tues­day af­ter Mr. Gal­lagher and UPMC Pres­i­dent and CEO Jef­frey Ro­moff an­nounced a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment to cre­ate the UPMC Im­mune Trans­plant and Ther­apy Cen­ter.

Ha­ley Nel­son/Post-Gazette

This 100-year-old build­ing on the bor­der of Bloom­field and Shady­side is to be­come the UPMC Im­mune Trans­plant and Ther­apy Cen­ter.

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