Out of the Park

Where home-run ideas get some play time
Summer 2018
In March, at the grand unveiling of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC)—a new partnership between Pitt and UPMC—the century-old former Ford assembly line and showroom at 5000 Baum Blvd. was transformed, with displays celebrating Pittsburgh’s past as well as Pitt/UPMC’s role in shaping its future.
For most biomedical researchers, the main source of funding is the National Institutes of Health. “To use a baseball analogy, they’re looking for contact hitters,” Toren Finkel, who worked for the NIH for 25 years, told CBS Pittsburgh recently. “If you come to them with a home-run proposal, they’re worried more about you striking out than hitting home runs.”
So when the University of Pittsburgh and its clinical partner, UPMC, came courting with the promise of a very different approach, Finkel was game. Finkel joined Pitt last year as professor of medicine as well as the G. Nicholas Beckwith III and Dorothy B. Beckwith Professor of Translational Medicine. “We’re making a bet on the talented faculty to say, ‘Let’s hit it out of the park and find some unique, novel solutions.’” 
Pitt and UPMC are looking for new pitches for radically effective new therapies. They want to bring new understanding to the field of immunotherapy, a principle behind some of the most exciting advances in recent memory. Modulating the immune system is key not only in cancer and organ transplantation, but also in aging and its consequences, including chronic diseases, says Finkel, who directs the Aging Institute. 
As part of a $200 million commitment to funding research that builds on our knowledge of the immune system, a new eight-story facility called the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC) will house labs, offices, startups, and industry partners. The facility, located at 5000 Baum Blvd., near UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and UPMC Shadyside, will be an anchor in the city’s innovation district. The hope is that by putting researchers and industry together under one roof, and providing funding for innovative new pitches, Pitt and UPMC can bring new treatments to the clinic much faster. The ITTC is slated to open in 2020.
Inset, left: Some 150 gathered for the announcement of the new center, envisioned as an epicenter for the city’s new innovation district. “This represents the first-of-its-kind partnership . . . that will bring not only the research, but the entrepreneurial capacity and industry, together to be able to translate more of our research into the clinic and into society,” said University of Pittsburgh Vice Chancellor for Economic Partnerships Rebecca Bagley. Right: Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (left) with Bagley (right). Large photo:  An exhibition of vintage Fords, some of which were contemporaries of the ones built on the site from 1915 to 1932, rolled in for the event. When ITTC opens in 2020, the eight-story, 200,000-square-foot structure will “spur development that will mean jobs for everyone, not just the PhD, but the GED as well,” said Peduto.