Editors note: This post was updated on February 14, 2020.
With $1 billion to invest in life sciences startups, UPMC Enterprises will create a significant impact on patient care at UPMC while generating major financial returns that will fuel more scientific discoveries.
The announcement last month that UPMC Enterprises’ Translational Sciences team has committed to investing $800 million by 2024 to find treatments and cures for a wide variety of diseases included $200 million previously committed to form the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC).
Led by Jeanne Cunicelli, Executive Vice President at UPMC Enterprises, this expansion in life sciences builds upon UPMC’s long track record of entrepreneurial success.
“We are looking for investments globally at all stages — from early stage to mature — that will complement the scientific work already underway in Pittsburgh,” Cunicelli said. “Initially, we focused on areas where Pitt has deep scientific expertise, such as understanding the biology of the immune system, and now we are adding investments that complement that work.”
Cunicelli’s team initially concentrated on the use of immunotherapies for cancer, transplantation and diseases related to aging. Over the past two years, the team formed five companies, invested in the external biotech Werewolf Therapeutics, and funded 30 internal research projects.
Four of the five companies formed that have been publicly announced are: BlueSphere Bio, which is pursuing T-cell therapies for cancer; Generian, which is tackling diseases related to aging; TTMS Inc., whose mission is to discover the next generation of effective immunotherapy targets; and Abound Bio, which is developing antibody libraries to generate biologic therapeutics.
With the additional capital, the Translational Sciences team has expanded its focus to include retinal and respiratory disease, autoimmune diseases, neuroinflammation and others therapeutic areas. The team expects to invest in five to 10 companies a year, across all stages of development. While these companies won’t all be headquartered in Pittsburgh, they should ideally have a tie to the region.
Because of the unique resources available at UPMC and University of Pittsburgh, the team will be able to take its intellectual property much further in development than other academic medical centers or venture capital firms.
Those resources include Pitt, which is one of the nation’s leading research universities that ranks among the top 10 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, and the integrated health care provider-insurer system of UPMC that allows the team to understand all facets of health care.
“This gives the startups we work with unparalleled access to resources and talent that few VCs can match, in addition to the significant funding that we provide,” Cunicelli said.
Those resources also allow UPMC Enterprises to slash the time and cost of moving research from bench to bedside. Toren Finkel, MD, co-founder of Generian and an expert in aging who worked at the NIH for 25 years, has said UPMC Enterprises’ approach has cut the time it takes to move academic research into human trials by at least two-thirds and at a far lower cost.
The Translational Sciences team, which already includes more than 20 investment professionals with extensive medical, business and drug development backgrounds, will expand in 2020 to include skilled investment professionals and seasoned managers.
The commitment to life sciences is just the latest example of UPMC’s long track record of entrepreneurial success and continues UPMC’s efforts to reinvent itself so that it can sustain quality health care for the residents of Pennsylvania.
“This announcement complements all of the investments we have made over the past two decades, and will continue to make, including those in the digital solutions space,” said Tal Heppenstall, President of UPMC Enterprises. “I am proud of all the work accomplished by the entire Enterprises team and am looking forward to a productive year ahead.”
Learn more about Translational Sciences at UPMC Enterprises.