PITTSBURGH (November 17, 2021) – The University of Pittsburgh and Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced a $100 million gift that will advance the region’s burgeoning life sciences economy by creating an anchor bioresearch and development facility on Hazelwood Green, the sprawling former industrial site near Downtown Pittsburgh being restored into a center for high-tech innovation and an engine for community growth.
With the gift — the largest single-project gift in the Foundation’s history — Pitt will create the University of Pittsburgh BioForge, a highly specialized biomanufacturing facility that will help bring new cell and gene therapies and other novel treatments to patients and the marketplace. Pitt BioForge will offer the University’s research teams as well as commercial and research partners high-tech manufacturing capabilities, wet lab and other innovation and incubation space. It will also deliver easy access to Pitt’s established research environment and UPMC’s clinical activities.
Combined with the University’s own financial commitment and funding from industry partners, the Pitt BioForge is expected to turn the region’s life sciences corridor into a global destination for investors and innovators, bringing together clinical, research and academic capabilities to offer ripe opportunities for both early-stage and established companies to advance medical progress. The project will also create new opportunities and connections in Hazelwood and among surrounding communities.
“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,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “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.”
Said Richard King Mellon Foundation Director Sam Reiman: “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. 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.”
“The University of Pittsburgh’s extraordinary research capabilities are nationally renowned and will serve as a powerful launching pad for medical discovery, and an engine for private-sector economic growth,” said Reiman. “Our longtime partners at UPMC are perfectly positioned to deploy those discoveries to improve the health and well-being of our communities. And Hazelwood Green is the ideal place to do this work. Coupled with our $75 million gift to Carnegie Mellon University for robotics and advanced manufacturing at Hazelwood Green — and thanks to the steadfast commitment of our Almono partners, the Heinz Endowments and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation — this is one of the final puzzle pieces in our efforts to make Hazelwood Green truly different than other riverside developments. This project will help make our vision for Hazelwood Green come to life: a magnet for sustainable growth and an engine for prosperity for our partner communities.”
Pitt remains committed to working closely with community partners to develop plans that ensure much of the economic benefit remains in the Mon Valley. In particular, both the University and the Richard King Mellon Foundation maintain a strong commitment to working with members of the Hazelwood community to ensure that employment opportunities and related economic activity make a positive impact in the neighborhood surrounding the project. Earlier this year, Pitt announced that it had received funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support the formation of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Alliance, a new membership-based nonprofit that will develop, promote and oversee a life sciences strategy to drive growth in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Pitt BioForge to Host Cutting-Edge Science
Current plans for Pitt BioForge envision a facility of approximately 200,000 – 250,000 square feet, which will be 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. Pitt research already underway and poised to relocate to BioForge includes: gene and engineered cell therapy, microneedle and other novel therapeutics and delivery technologies, and the development of micro- and nano-antibodies.
“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,” said Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “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.”
Historic Gift Builds on Ongoing Momentum
The transformational grant is expected to build additional momentum across the region, with interest in investment on the rise and community groups rallying in support. “This is the largest single-project grant in the Foundation’s 74-year history. Our trustees approved this extraordinary grant because of this project’s unique potential to powerfully accelerate several of our most important strategic priorities,” said Richard A. Mellon, chairman of the Richard King Mellon Foundation Board of Trustees. “We are convinced this project is a generational opportunity to create shared prosperity at scale for the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and to cement Pittsburgh’s status as a national and global leader in one of the most important economic sectors of our time.”
UPMC is positioned to play a critical role in translating breakthroughs emerging from the laboratories of the Pitt BioForge to the clinical setting. Physicians and researchers will work hand in hand to rapidly test and apply these therapies at scale, providing real-world applications to these medical advancements.
“UPMC is excited to be a part of this innovative biomedical and advanced manufacturing initiative, bringing together some of the world’s finest and brightest scientists and researchers right here in the communities we serve,” said Leslie C. Davis, president and chief executive officer of UPMC. “We look forward to offering our bench-to-bedside expertise and unique clinical perspectives to continue developing new technologies and novel treatments that will revolutionize medical care.”
Pitt’s status as a world-leading center for medical and other advanced research brings significant revenues to the region, with nearly one billion in research-related funding annually, including more than $570 million in NIH grants in 2021. In 2020, the University ranked among the top 20 universities worldwide for the number of U.S. utility patents issued. And over the last five years, Pitt researchers, faculty and students launched 87 startup companies based on University technology alone; were granted 503 U.S. patents; filed 1,768 invention disclosures; and obtained $46.7 million in revenue from technology transfer activities.
Kristin Davitt, the University’s senior vice chancellor for philanthropic and alumni engagement, noted that the Richard King Mellon Foundation gift is one of the largest in Pitt’s 234-year history.
“This historic commitment builds on a long tradition of support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the extended Mellon family that has helped the University become the institution it is today,” said Davitt, adding that the Foundation is the single largest donor overall to Pitt. “Generations of students, faculty members and researchers have benefitted from this philanthropy, and they, in turn, have advanced the University’s mission of improving lives and communities by creating knowledge and addressing challenges throughout society.”
Previous giving from the Richard King Mellon Foundation has helped launch or expand key initiatives at the University, including the Center for Energy, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (now UPMC Hillman Cancer Center), the University Honors College and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (a joint program with Carnegie Mellon University). In addition to these and many other gifts, Richard King Mellon Foundation support was essential to the University’s recruitment of Thomas E. Starzl in 1981 and helped launch Pitt’s world-renowned Transplantation Institute, which now bears Starzl’s name.
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About the University of Pittsburgh: Founded in 1787, the University of Pittsburgh is an internationally renowned leader in health sciences learning and research. A top 10 recipient of NIH funding since 1998, Pitt has repeatedly been ranked as the best public university in the Northeast, per The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education. Pitt consists of a campus in Pittsburgh—home to 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools — and four regional campuses located throughout Western Pennsylvania. Pitt offers nearly 500 distinct degree programs; serves more than 33,000 students; employs more than 14,000 faculty and staff; and awards 9,000 degrees systemwide.
About the Richard King Mellon Foundation: Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The Foundation’s 2020 year-end endowment was $3.1 billion, and its Trustees in 2020 disbursed $130 million in grants and Program Related Investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan. In May 2021, the Foundation committed $150 million to accelerate various aspects of Carnegie Mellon University’s science and technology leadership and to begin the transformation of Hazelwood Green.