Pioneering human geneticist and entrepreneur Dietrich Stephan has spent years in the world’s most vibrant health science hubs, like Boston and San Francisco.
He thinks Pittsburgh has the kind of talent to break into their ranks, and develop the kinds of treatments that change the world.
“We’ve done it before. We’ve invented the Salk vaccine, for polio,” says Stephan. “We’ve invented liver transplantation. We’re pioneering immunotherapy for curing cancer.”
The world-class research is here. In particular, the University of Pittsburgh — one of the top five medical schools in the country (in National Institute for Health funding) — and tech juggernaut CMU, the combination of which is a breeding ground for medical innovation.
“It’s the same pattern you see in Boston and San Francisco,” says Stephan, a Pitt grad who founded Navigenics, which pioneered genetics testing, and has led or founded more than a dozen biotech firms.
Putting it all together is the mission of LifeX — spearheaded by the University of Pittsburgh, but drawing in unparalleled local assets like Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.
The plan is nothing short of a frontal assault on seemingly unsolvable problems like cancer, drug-resistant bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes and rare genetic diseases.
LifeX will be headquartered in the Strip District, and they plan to begin there in March. There, LifeX Labs will house startup biotech firms, where the experienced mentorship of Stephan and others will help turn them into viable companies. LifeX Seed is raising a “targeted investment fund” of $25 million to support companies in the LifeX Labs.
LifeX Capital will be an even larger fund, assisting biotech companies working on the aforementioned big problems.
LifeX Portfolio will be a collection of companies funded by LifeX, including groundbreaking pharmaceutical startups from around the world, selected for their potential.
Current Pittsburgh companies that will get LifeX support include Peptilogics, which is working on a new class of antibiotics, and Sharp Edge Labs, which is developing cures for rare genetic diseases.
Though Pittsburgh has always had a number of biotech companies, per a recent Brookings Institute study, the city seems to underperform when it comes to commercialization, given its many advantages.
“This piece of infrastructure is an accelerant to that,” says Stephan. “Now we’re going to pour gas on the fire and run hard.”