Where did your career begin? What did you do? What were the most important lessons you learned there?
I began my career as a newspaper journalist, with my final six years as a reporter on the business desk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In that role, I was writing daily about Pittsburgh’s slow but steady transformation from an industrial manufacturing-based economy to one based on technology, education, and healthcare. This experience helped clarify for me a unique advantage Pittsburgh can claim compared to most “Rust Belt” industrial cities that have struggled to make the transition to the information age: having two powerhouse research universities with such complementary strengths, underpinned by a robust foundation community, and a world-class healthcare system.
What have been your biggest takeaways from the PHDA?
The potential for breakthrough innovations in precision medicine and digital healthcare delivery is staggering. Few places are better positioned than Pittsburgh, via the PHDA, to deliver on this promise. The complementary research strengths of Pitt and CMU in healthcare, bioinformatics, and machine learning, when combined with the clinical breadth and resources of UPMC, is yielding significant improvements in clinical practice, with lots more in the future. One great example that we highlighted recently for the Innovation Institute is the development of the ThyroSeq diagnostic test for thyroid cancer, which is helping to eliminate thousands of unnecessary thyroid removal surgeries. The inventors, Yuri and Marina Nikiforov(a), who operate the Molecular Genomic Pathology Laboratory at UPMC, credit the marriage of their research and clinical roles at Pitt and UPMC for making it possible for them to develop and refine the test to the point where it was ready for licensing and distribution, without requiring a significant external investment. That is not something that could be done in many other places.
Where do you see Pittsburgh in the next 5-10 years? Where do you see the PHDA?
Once the pandemic begins to subside, I am very hopeful that Pittsburgh will continue growing its life sciences sector to balance the growth it has witnessed in machine learning, robotics, and advanced manufacturing. The investments that have been made at Pitt to support its commercial translation ecosystem have resulted in record numbers of licenses and startups over the past five years. UPMC, meanwhile, has committed $1 billion to life sciences investments over the next five years, including the $200 million previously committed to the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC) in partnership with Pitt. I see the PHDA increasingly being a significant contributor to the startup activity and economic vitality of the region while helping to transform the way healthcare is delivered.
What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
Due to a strange set of circumstances involving a move to Florida and an unexpected return to Pennsylvania, I attended three different elementary schools in 3rd grade, two of them for less than a month at the beginning and end of the year. I think this experience has helped me relate to new people and work more effectively in teams.