Today we welcome Jeanne Cunicelli, President, UPMC Enterprises; and Executive Vice President, UPMC.
Jeanne, who led Enterprises’ Translational Sciences focus area since 2017, took over as Executive VP this past January. She is a veteran venture capitalist in the life sciences industry, having been a managing director at Bay City Capital in San Francisco before joining UPMC.
Under Jeanne's leadership, the Translational Sciences team grew to more than 20 scientific and investment professionals working to accelerate the transfer of scientific discoveries into life-changing medicines, diagnostics and devices. The team formed five startup companies based on University of Pittsburgh research and is expanding its focus nationally and internationally to deploy $1 billion by 2024 in life sciences to grow their portfolio of syndicated investments alongside their company formation efforts.
So good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Happy to be here. I guess today is you know, I never remember the day. But no matter. I know that it's the end of February, the sun is shining, and we have a lot to look forward to. So I know Jonathan will fill everyone in and tell him what day today is and what we're up to. But I want to give a shout out to Huntington bank thanking them for being our partners right from the onset, hard to believe that we're soon approaching 12 months of doing these shows each and every day. And we have a packed schedule coming for the next three weeks, we're pretty excited by and it appears that these conversations continue to have value for all of us. So we're excited about that. Today is no exception, I will introduce our guest, Jeanne Cunicelli. She's the executive vice president of Did I say that correctly, Jane, thank you who's gonna make fun of me. Okay, Executive Vice President at UPMC enterprises. But give us one moment, I want to thank 40 by 80, as well. 40 by 80 is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pittsburgh tech Council. And that's what we focus on workforce development and entrepreneurship. You'll hear more about our apprentice program coming up over the next couple of months that we're very, very excited about. And then we also have a great, exciting partnership this week that I'm going to pass the baton to Jonathan kersting. And he is going to talk about what we're up to.
today. It is indeed Wednesday all day. And it feels kind of weird, because it's so sunny and nice outside of my eating, crack my window open in my home office. So what I'm gonna talk about right now, as you all know, we have a contest going on, send us pictures of your decrepid home workspaces. And you could win a complete makeover with no and workspace in your mind. Everyone workspace can help you with your office design as well, too. So as you start going back to the offices are all excited to do in the near future. They can help you reconfigure your office spaces, we're really excited for this contest, go to design at work scape inc.com and send your picture. And we're going to announce the winner on Friday and our business as usual as we have a professional mold talking about technology in the workplace. And when it comes to all things office furniture, be there to hear your wins, because you got to be there if you want to get the actual makeover. So we're looking forward to Audrey, it's gonna be
great. And so the information about emailing the pictures design at work scape inc.com. So there have been some funny submissions already. We're pretty excited by it. So two things, we've muted your microphones, and we have a chat, the chat is for you to ask questions of our guests not to sell anything today. That's not what it's about. We just want to focus on our guests. So we have the VP, the Executive Vice President at UPMC enterprises, which many people have heard about over the years. But we're pretty excited because Jeanne now has been at the helm of UPMC enterprises for two months to two months tomorrow. Okay, so we're pretty excited about having her here. There's so much to talk about. So without any further ado, Jeanne , thank you so much for taking the time with us today. And as we get started, and before we even talk about UPMC enterprise before we even go there. Let's just talk about your background. Who is Jeanne ? How did you get to Pittsburgh? What's your you know, wherever you spent your time, and hopefully you're holding up really well during this pandemic?
Yeah, actually, like a lot of you I feel really fortunate to have gotten through thus far within the pandemic, who is Jean, so I am running UPMC enterprises right now. But there's sort of a before Pittsburgh story, which is that I grew up in Philadelphia, after Carnegie Mellon, I moved out to San Francisco. And that's where I became a special education teacher. And for a few years, so I learned a lot about behavioral, let's call it just behaviors and judgment of people, etc. I, in parallel, had gone to work as a temporary starting temporary assistant at a place called Ernst and Young in a group that had been writing a book on the biotech industry. And I was answering phones not very well, but I was trying, I answered phones. They said to me, You have a degree from Carnegie Mellon, we need some help. We tabulate a survey from life sciences executives, go figure out how to program it. And so it did. What I learned is how much I loved the biotech industry through that experience. And through that experience, I studied the industry so I moved along not just from tabulating the survey results but interviewing executives in the industry. Learn A lot about how the industry finances partners etc stayed with Ernst and Young for five or six years. Through that connection, one of the founders of my previous firm base city capital knew me and invited me to join Bay City capital. So then I started in venture capital. Now mind you, I did not have a science nor finance background, but sort of sponged it up, because I loved it. And from there, I learned how to become a venture capitalist, if one can learn that, and worked in Pittsburgh, sorry, San Francisco for 20 years, I believe. Now, while I was working in Pittsburgh, in San Francisco, I met UPMC in the early 2000s, maybe like 2005. That's my connection to come back to Pittsburgh. And I watched from afar, I knew them they Brunel PNR fund, I watched how they thought I watched how they grew, I watched how they had this entrepreneurial thing about how to grow quickly, even though you're really large, and how when they had decisions to make, they made them. And if it's they need to change courses, they change courses it was watching was pretty important for me to learn about them. So for a long time, I had a relationship with them as an LP meaning of an investor in our fund. And then around 2015 I'm only smiling because another funny thing is I retired. Great, except day one of retirement was sort of, uh, Oh, goodness, what did I just do? But you know, by three years in, I was really excited to be retired. And UPMC came calling again and said, we're thinking about how to optimize what we know, in the immunotherapy space through transplantation, aging, chronic diseases, you know, would you advise us for a little bit, and I again, going back to how I knew how they thought, I thought this will be a really fun thing. I did that for seven or eight months, and then became a full time employee worked for my predecessor tell heppenstall through to the day that tells that he was retiring. And they asked me to become president of enterprises, which they took over, which is, you know, is both Translational Sciences and the digital health side. So that's me. And I have two children, I hope somewhere along the way, as a single parent, I adopted two children from Ethiopia, which is like my biggest accomplishment.
Wow. And are they living in Pittsburgh? Yes. Yes, they are. They are here. Yep. That's great. So what do you think about Pittsburgh right now? From where you see it? So
I've always been a fan of Pittsburgh, I'll see you all have the best of both worlds, which is some of the largest brains in the world with humility and abilities to ask questions. I've always said this, that that welcoming, sort of, let's all learn together, it really does exist here. And when you have the likes of a Carnegie Mellon, and a Pitt and a UPMC, and all of the system around it, whether it's the corporate system, or folks such as yourselves, you have a terrific making. I see technology changing Pittsburgh, so I see some of the companies coming in Amazon, Google, that's a great thing. Right? So the question is, with all this popularity, can we preserve the culture? So we continue to learn and stay humble? That would be my only question.
Right? Because you've probably seen in places where the growth has created some lack of humility, right? I would say, is that a polite way to say that?
I would say it's very polite.
So we've got to work really hard on that. Any any helpful hints on that?
I just think humility keeps you learning. I don't know how to say it differently. It just keeps you asking the questions and the willingness to ask questions. Don't forget who we are, what we're grounded in. And that that, you know, San Francisco was where it came from. I just think people got so successful, you could be in a different type of bubble. And it's a good lesson, because there's a lot of people outside that bubble. That's right. And we've seen that during the pandemic, we get it. You know, we
have a chance here, unfortunately, to see what's happened in the pandemic right in front of ourselves. And I think the difference in Pittsburgh than in San Francisco, because I have lots of colleagues and friends there is we don't get oblivious to it.
Yeah, and I don't think it was on purpose. It never is. No, it's, it's people were busy and doing great things. So yeah. So that's our lesson. And I think we have the makings of a great place here. That's already a great place.
That's great. That's great. We're glad we're glad you're here. So you have so shortly before the pandemic UPMC, enterprises announced plans to invest $1 billion so into companies focused on transitional translational services, and digital solutions, I mean, probably everything so so can we talk about the model because I think that's really important. Sometimes that's a mistake. So those who are on the outside side.
Sure. So backing up enterprises has been around for quite some time decades actually has been quite successful on the digital solutions side, understanding that technology can address big challenges in healthcare. And they've been really successful when I mentioned that my predecessor tell called me that was in 2016, or 2017. At I can't remember the dates, but they wanted to get up next to digital, the medical sort of drug diagnostics devices. Part of it, they hadn't done that, given that Pitt, very close collaborator with UPMC, was sitting right there with some of the foremost researchers and Clint mmm UPMC, having the clinicians, there was the makings of a very powerful model. So now enterprises would have a digital side, as well as a sort of drug development side, the billion dollars is was announced in January, people focus on that I think the bigger point is UPMC, is willing to think very, very bold and very big about how we're going to change the course of medicine and help patients. And so when you break down the Translational Sciences model, we have everything from a discovery engine where we can take very early science, and we have a group of people who focus solely on translating that science at an industry scale. So what do I mean by that? I mean, we understand what the market needs, we understand what the right cell lines are, we understand what the most relevant biological animal models are. And we work with our investigators and meet them in the middle of where they want their science to go and what we think might make commercial sense. In addition, UPMC and Pitt recruited some of the foremost experts in the world in areas such as aging, ophthalmology, Dr. Turin Finkel, Dr. Josie to help, we have an antibody effort, meaning we can discover and develop antibodies, we have this group of enabling technology where we can look at your immune system from very deep levels. We call it deep immune profiling, with all kinds of assets, we have a immunology department, that's bar none, you know, growing so quickly, and it's become one of the world renowned immunology. So we have all the makings. And on top of that, there's a history and transplantation as you all know, and just forward thinking in cancer, etc. So our job is to leapfrog whatever wasn't working in traditional investigation of drugs and devices and move it forward aggressively, quickly, and find the best in class. We have the best in class here, through Pitt and UPMC. And then we complement it with things from throughout the world where it may not be a place where we can, you know, we can't be best, but we found it and we need it here for our use, or we need it, you know, we need to be able to access it. I shouldn't say it has to move here. But so it's a pretty big model. It's a broad model.
And so if you're located you have a team of people, can you talk a little bit about the structure? Sure. And let's just talk about the difference between venture capital and the kind of investments that you make sure.
I mean, you could look from the outside and call this venture capital, because we are pricing companies, we do pay money into those companies. The difference is if we need to, we can go it alone for a very long time. So we don't have to syndicate from day one. And we can take the time, we have an internal wait. So let me back up. There's I have MDS, PhDs, the team is, you know, just like anybody that you might be investing, you need all the disciplines in order to figure out if that investment makes sense. We have people who spend their lives literally looking at the early science, we call them the translational team that is building a portfolio, think about an r&d portfolio where you are trying to prioritize what's going to become worthy of moving to the clinic, we have capabilities where we can run into clinical trials, so we can open an ind go through phase one. And again, all this is done at an industry standard so that if a partner comes along, they don't have to if we decide not to build a company around it, the partner doesn't have to repeat what we've already done, it's ready for partner. post that we have the ability to put money into companies that already exist or to buy assets that complement our companies. And so that would be called that would be called proof of concept earlier proof of concept. And then on the very end of the chain, we can also invest we did this earlier in the year we invested in a tiny little ultrasound device that some of our clinicians found interesting. We did that through a spec. So while you know putting money to work is what VCs do. What you didn't hear me say is the first thing we do is run and find a partner to discover the idea with us because the whole time we're building a company around an idea. The science doesn't stop we have a great workroom in house that never stop so that when if we thought about building a company in January, but it can't be up and running takes a lot of effort and people's time. They can't be up and running for 18 months. The science is still going on. inside of our walls, I guess is the right way to say it. And so when they, you know, actually are ready to transfer to the company, they're 18 months further along than at 18 months behind. Now we have syndicated with traditional VCs, we have several companies that came from outside of our system, one in Paris, one in Boston, one in San Francisco. And we have a couple more we'll be announcing soon.
So how many people do have on a team? And then we're going to jump to some questions? Sure. On the directing, because it sounds like you know, you've got partnerships, you've got people that there's a lot of moving pieces and parts, which sounds a ton of fun and very pliable. It's pliable, but it's a discipline to machine. So we,
one of the tricks here is you can't, you cannot nor should you do every project, just because they're interesting, we have got to make sure we move the ones we think can move forward quickly. The Translational Sciences team has, I think, 20 professionals, the digital side, we have several 100 people who work within enterprises. So it's a pretty large team. Okay. And then you have an organizational structure of leadership oversees each and every piece of that we do so working with me closely, you and I were talking earlier about Brent burns, he rents all of our digital portfolio. And that could be that models, just as I think eloquent, as I explained, on the Translational Sciences side, we have a head of operations named Eliza Swan, who runs marketing and legal and overseas, you know, a lot of the operations for enterprises, we are hiring in my replacement, so that person has not yet arrived. We're in the process of that my replacement on the Translational Sciences side. And then we have we have HR like everybody, it really is its own division within UPMC. UPMC has four divisions of which this one.
Great, that's great. Thank you. Thank you for setting the stage for that. That's, that's very helpful. Jonathan, can you jump in? And we have we have a bunch of questions. I do want to say that Dr. fallow is somewhere out in the in the audience here. And we had an early on Jeanne , we had him early on, as he began to, you know, build the experiment with the vaccine and the bandages and he actually was part of our STEM initiative where he had a chance to speak to hundreds of teachers and students virtually, and talk about what he went through. So Oh, hello.
Oh, oh, he's incredible. Yeah,
really great. So so let's go to some of the questions, Jonathan,
we're gonna start right at the top, because the questions are rolling in hot and heavy, that's for sure. So Dave, girls guy that has a two part question here. He wants to know, what opportunities do you see in digital health for Pittsburgh companies? And also wants to know, do you favor opportunities coming out of UPMC? Or do you look to the community of entrepreneurs to create and develop new opportunities?
in digital health, gosh, we see a lot of opportunities. So let's talk about COVID for a second. Let me just say what a privilege it was to watch a healthcare system, really jump into action to address challenges with COVID. I think you all recall that UPMC was one of the last to, you know, stop doing surgeries. They weren't they managed it very differently than we saw a lot of systems. What I'm getting at is in parallel to that. We had a project called my UPMC. That once people were no longer in the office, how would you schedule? How would you do telemedicine? How would you make sure the patient still felt connected? We were able to that's a big opportunity, right telemedicine is and quite frankly, that the experience of the patient being able to have an outpatient experience where the front door is a friendly digital front door is a place we spend time we have telemedicine in areas you know, access is a big, massive problem in healthcare. We talk about that a lot here. telemedicine is the great equalizer. We have programs where we're looking at technologies and apps that can provide access to people who otherwise wouldn't have access to specialists. We started in the ICU, we worked with the New York actually through COVID. in the ICU, we on this app with this application. We've had over 1500 visits since it stood up in March or June. It can move to neuro it can move to psychiatry, it's a wonderful platform to provide access to people for specialists who otherwise don't have that access. That is a it's a big bottleneck as it is now when you think about how desperate communities are where they're trying to, you know, find their healthcare. In other cases, Ai, of course, is a big buzzword, but we have lots and lots of records as you know, data. And so one way is to figure out how you translate that data. So I think the melding of how do you take the information you learn from the medicine side and the digital side and combine it so that you have more freedom Personalized Medicine. So I'd say there's there's some focus on crossover as well.
It's kind of leads into a question from students here, I'm gonna jump over a little bit wants to know, um, are you guys looking at sort of blockchain solutions?
I'm only laughing because I'm just, you know, getting up to speed on blockchain, I am going to defer to my partner Brent and say, Yes. What is our strategy there? You know, it's one of those areas we're figuring out.
But yeah. And how can folks contact you, lots of folks are interested in maybe linking up and getting in front of you, it's a good way for people to kind of navigate and get in front of the UPMC enterprises.
Yeah, we so there's two ways we have a website where people can actually submit and say they want to contact one of us, we have a gentleman named Chad, deemer, d, h, m, er, who's kind of our front door and you should be willing to contact him and he'll make sure it gets to the right person. Brent and I are on the website, others around the website, you There's nothing saying you can't, you know, email us directly as well.
Fantastic. We like the open door policy like that to get people through in front of you very, very cool stuff. More questions. We keep going with these, Audrey? Or do we have more questions on your end?
Another question? I want to circle back with her in a minute. Absolutely.
So from this from Ben town, he wants to know, is your primary metric, dollar denominated ROI like most VCs? Or do you have a special give more of a social mission? And use an even for non traditional measures when making investments?
Can I be honest and tell you it's both? So yes. The patient and the system, you know, we do better by the system, we figure out life changing medicines or technology, ultimately, our patients benefit. And to me, I you know, we at our meetings, do not ever lose sight of that. At the same time, we need to make solid choices of companies we build and investments we make because we are working with the help you know that the entire system's money. So I would say it's both. But we're a mission driven group for sure. Now, I'll caveat it by telling you that when we conduct diligence, when we figure out which investment to make, it's the same type of diligence. We are disciplined about what price we'll pay for something, how we think about employees with IP, the science, all of those layers, I find it a blessing that we have, that we have behind us, you know, a $25 billion integrated health system and our mission is to make sure that we help move that forward to new models of care to help them change their model if necessary. Okay,
go to david Young's question, and then I'll
surely so David one, David Young wants to know, is there an opportunity for college students? Do you have a background in math or science to help participate in this process?
Yes, and wow, math and sciences? Really?
the backbone, a lot of backbone of what we do. So yes, please. And we have. Again, I think you can check with Chad, but we do have, sometimes we have internships. And so you know, it's it's just depends on timing, quite frankly, on what we're looking for, at what time But yeah, I think an Amy cook our head of HR manages our internships.
So what can you give us some examples are many companies that you've invested in and that you sort of quote unquote spun out? Sure. You know, so know about recently?
Yeah, so since we formed what we called Translational Sciences, we have a company called Blue sphere bio. That's, that's doing oncology, personalized T cell therapy. T cells are, are, you know, immune system responses. We have another company called denarian. that uses small molecules, so traditional chemicals to approach with a very creative approach to some of the most challenging chronic diseases with a founder who's world known in the science of aging. We have on the other side just formed a company called a strada that's applying, you know, what I would call the unstructured notes. interpreting the written word through through high machine learning and algorithms are incredible. And that's, that's run by a lady named Rebecca Jacobson. So those are three examples. We have big efforts in ophthalmology. We have efforts, as I mentioned in telemedicine, so we have a few more on the docket.
Great. That's great. So if you if you were to say to all of us in here, what are the kinds of things that you hope people are working on? You know, because I know everyone's looking and building there's so many pieces to life sciences and biotech. Are there are there at any areas that you feel are just so ripe? That we should be thinking about this, we should this should be in the near term.
You know, a must do is it too Is it too much Have an obvious choice to say I think we learned a lesson in infectious diseases over the past year
to contactless things that are contactless, then, you know, you could call it that, I
think staying ahead of bugs. What did we learn from this pandemic? What did we learn about? Not just from the infectious disease standpoint, but how to analyze a disease, how to think about populations within the disease, the disease did not treat everybody the same. I think that's very important and true of most diseases. I think women's health is a big area, but that's just me because I'm right. Okay. But you know, the areas we're talking about that I just described, you know, yeah, computational biology, things that have to do with bringing together the, we'll call it, you know, immunology with the computation with the drug discovery, more efficient discovery, there's lots of areas Audrey and and right now we're going through an exercise on the team, you know, autoimmune, where people have to take pills for 30 and 40 years. I think attacking those, those are not easy, but there's all because the populations are so large, and heterogeneous, heterogeneous. But one of the things that we're finding is we have an expert here in our system, named Derek Angus, who runs our critical care department, he's now our chief innovation officer, who is spearheading a way to help make trials clinical trials much more efficient, and not just by cost by time. So things right now take a really long time to get to mark it could be 10 years. So figuring out the right patient population early and running those trials around that patient populations, another area, and again, that's a combination of the digital and Life Sciences piece of it.
Well, I mean, if you think about the data about our population, that maybe I don't know, 40% of people will soon be over the age of 65 or 70. And that generation it and and at the same time, what we saw during the pandemic was essentially the decimation of skilled nursing, right? I mean, just over the overarching piece, we were very active in trying to raise the level of awareness and commitment around, you know, what, what happened and what continues to happen. Where Where do you stand in terms of that, that whole piece in terms of aging and, and
aging is a process that we believe starts really early? Right? There are certain diseases that we would tell you, we think are tied to aging, and it's our immune system, what they call senescing. So there's a reason 20 somethings with COVID, you know, many can run around not even knowing they're infected, but still be, you know, carrying a load of virus. And those of us who are older with more wrinkles, will show you know, the virus will fill us right. So we stand in the place where we have the benefit, I think of thinking longer term here, when you ask about what's really different about our approach, we don't have to think in terms of five and 10 year funds, we can think about starting today, what would look how could we look longitudinally at how people age who How do you figure out who's going to be a healthy agent? And how can you intervene earlier in the, in the process, the underlying disease process that probably started way back? When, and so it's a, it's a big area, and we have the luxury of being able to investigate that area.
So what keeps you up at night? I mean, you have so many things that you're working on. And even Brad asked a question about, you know, the importance of you know, patient focused centric, you know, approaches, and I know that you have people there who are focused on user interface design, and making sure that they're doing the right kinds of interventions as they create solutions. What What keeps you up at night?
To me, what,
what should keep us all up at night is I see it, you know, I say this a lot. And I and I mean it from, from the most genuine place, I walk presby a lot. I see hospitals a lot, I take the time to actually talk to patients who are there. I think about access to care, that that to me, if COVID showed us nothing, it's you know, so many things that showed us that is one thing that stood out for me, right that we were fortunate to have at UPMC in our backyard, but if someone I knew was sick in a different area of the country, how would that go? And a number of people who come to UPMC come from all over the place. So how can we improve that access to care? How can we improve the understanding of what's in that care? We are treating people at very sophisticated levels so how do you how do you make sure the patient is engaged understands the other things that keep me up at night as I truly believe we have answers to a lot of big healthcare questions and how can we discipline ourselves and get them moving as quickly as possible and get them in the, you know, into the patient as quickly as possible.
Well, Jean, you have just been a delight to connect with, we have spent 30 wonderful minutes with you. And I really appreciate the time your candor and get your your commitment to doing this kind of work. We're selfish here in Pittsburgh, because we're black, Pittsburgh. So we want, we want the impact to be felt here in Pittsburgh. And but we also know that Pittsburgh, it needs to be a community, to the world and for the world. So for that I appreciate the work that you're doing. We will stay connected. I promise you that Jean, I think this is the beginning of many great opportunities for us to figure out ways to support you, thank you for telling everyone how they can gain access to you, team. And that's wonderful and delightful. And I cannot thank you enough. So appreciate your time. And appreciate your can't wait to see what's next. And I'm glad that we can now meet I'm going to come over and meet you face to face soon out since I've gotten my second vaccine. So really appreciate that offer. Thank you. Jonathan. What's up for because I thought today was Friday Jeanne.
It was Friday. Friday, it
can be Friday. Right? Thank
you. Thank you. Thank you.
Friday, it was Friday we would have been talking to Kimberly bongaree Smith he's the senior director replaced as you know and be giving away our our makeover. So remember to submit your office your home office pictures to design at work scape calm and tomorrow. Really excited. We have Michael McQuaid. He's the Vice President of Research at Carnegie Mellon University. So man, what an awesome week of content.
That's my best
bet. We will definitely do that. So thanks everyone. Really appreciate hearing from you Jean. Thank you to our sponsors. And we will see you here tomorrow, same time. Thank you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai