Pitt, Richard King Mellon Foundation announce $100 million grant

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Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he is “grateful” for the foundation’s gift.

By Natalie Frank and Millicent Watt

Pitt, along with the Richard King Mellon Foundation, announced on Wednesday a $100 million gift to help fund a bioresearch and development facility at Hazelwood Green.

According to a press release, the gift is the largest single-project gift in the foundation’s history and one of the largest gifts to Pitt in its 234-year history. The Mellon Foundation’s gift will fund Pitt’s new “BioForge” facility, which will help develop new cell and gene therapies as well as other novel treatments to patients. The facility will also offer high-tech manufacturing capabilities, wet labs and incubation spaces to University research teams, commercial and research partners.

The press release said Pitt BioForge is “expected to turn the region’s life sciences corridor into a global destination for investors and innovators” and offer “ripe opportunities” for medical companies.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he is “grateful” for the foundation’s gift.

“The Richard King Mellon Foundation’s gift is nothing short of transformative, and it paves the way for the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC to establish a world-class biomanufacturing hub at Hazelwood Green,” Gallagher said. “I am grateful for this support and confident that we’ll succeed — together — in strengthening Southwestern Pennsylvania’s role as a leading life sciences destination.”

Sam Reiman, the foundation’s director, said he is excited to see BioForge’s potential in bringing innovation and accessibility to the Pittsburgh community.

“The foundation is making a historic bet on Pittsburgh to lead nationally in the life sciences. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that we need to discover and manufacture health care advances right here at home,” Reiman said. “And we are even more eager to lead in this sector because of its potential to generate family-sustaining job opportunities that are accessible to all our communities.”

According to the press release, both Pitt and the foundation are committed to working with Hazelwood community members to ensure that the project provides employment opportunities and economic benefits to the surrounding communities. Hazelwood Green is the current name for a redevelopment on the site of the former LTV Coke Works in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood, located about three miles south of Oakland on the banks of the Monongahela River.

The release stated that the BioForge facility will be about 200,000 to 250,000 square feet and “equipped to perform the most advanced biomanufacturing processes and other innovative development, with the purpose of bringing every stage of the life sciences innovation process under one roof.”

Several research projects already underway at Pitt — including gene and engineered cell therapy, microneedle and other novel therapeutics and delivery technologies, and the development of micro- and nano-antibodies research — will relocate to the new facility once erected.

Anantha Shekhar, the senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, said in the release that the new facility will encourage “cutting-edge research.”

“Pittsburgh is poised to become the next global hub for life sciences and biotech, and this gift propels us on that path like never before,” Shekhar said. “The talent we have in this region is unmatched. This gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will allow us to create a space-based strategy for all that talent to flourish and engage in cutting-edge research. Our shared vision for building a meds and eds innovation engine with UPMC, industry and the Hazelwood community will spur new solutions and opportunities for generations to come.”

UPMC will also play a major role in the new facility, according to the release. UPMC physicians will work alongside Pitt researchers to work on medical advancements, new technologies and “novel” treatments.

Prior to this gift, the Richard King Mellon Foundation also helped “launch or expand” the Center for Energy, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and University Honors College, as well as the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint program with Carnegie Mellon University. According to the release, the foundation also helped recruit Dr. Thomas Starzl in 1981 and launched the Starzl Transplantation Institute.

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