$800M Will Go To The Best, UPMC Says. Will That Be In Pgh?

Feb 3, 2020

On today's program: What UPMC wants from its $1 billion life sciences investment; why small dams are a problem in the Ohio watershed; opening arguments begin in the Wilkinsburg mass shooting trial; and new data details jobs lost to the U.S.-China trade deficit. 

Putting Pittsburgh at the center of medical innovation
(00:00 — 15:03) 

Life sciences research in Pittsburgh is getting a $1 billion booster shot. The commitment includes $200 million already promised to its Immune Transplant and Therapy Center through its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.

Jeanne Cunicelli, executive vice president with UPMC Enterprises, tells The Confluence’s Megan Harris that the remaining $800 million could go to medical device makers, drug companies, software developers or others at various stages of development. Ideally, she says, it’s a pipeline with rolling maturity dates. A team of 20 is already in place to review would-be assets, and Cunicelli says she wants to be wowed.

“We have a risk tolerance that’s pretty high,” she says of the budding portfolio. “You have to, to be in this business.”  

If they’re successful, she says $1 billion could be just the beginning. 

In a previous broadcast, Cunicelli shared a separate idea still in its infancy: UPMC could soon develop its own pharmaceutical company in Pittsburgh. 

"The vision for that would be a sustainable, long-term, big-presence-in-Pittsburgh type of company, with lots of employees and people we recruit," she said.

Not everyone is ready to “unbuild” dams along the Ohio River
(16:20 — 23:40) 

Pennsylvania has removed more than 300 small dams that cross waterways, making it a leader in the nation. As The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant reports, an effort to remove some of the thousands of unused dams in the Ohio River watershed will improve safety and fish habitat. But, not everyone is ready for it.

Grant spoke with residents in Trumbull County, Ohio who worry that firefighters could lose a secondary source of water that pools behind the dam if it’s removed. Health officials are also concerned about the lack of public sewer infrastructure in the area. 

Wilkinsburg mass shooting trial begins
(23:43 — 30:18) 

Robert Thomas and Cheron Shelton appeared in court Monday morning as opening arguments in the 2016 Wilkinsburg mass shooting trial begin. The two men are accused of ambushing a backyard barbecue where five people, including a pregnant woman, were killed. 

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Megan Guza shares her experience covering the shooting and recent jury selection, plus what she’ll be listening for in court. 

Guza rightly predicted the first order of business would be an argument on behalf of Thomas to drop charges against him due to lack of evidence. Judge Edward J. Borkowski has since dismissed those charges. Charges against Cheron Shleton will proceed, including six counts of homicide, three counts of aggravated assault and more. The trial is expected to last up to three weeks.

Report says PA has lost 137K jobs to China
(30:20 — 37:12)

A report by the Economic Policy Institute shows the trade deficit with China has cost millions of American jobs. 

Researchers with the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit found the rate of disappearing jobs has continued to climb since 2016. Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center who partners with the EPI, says manufacturing was the sector worst hit by icy relations with China. 

Under a new partial deal between the two countries, Chinese leaders agreed to spend $75 billion on manufactured goods from the U.S., but Herzenberg says it’s not clear whether that will do much to restore the losses in that sector.

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.