UPMC joins Italian government to create $398 million biomedical research center in Sicily

PITTSBURGH – Building on its successful transplant center and clinical facility in Palermo, Italy, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) today announced a partnership with the Italian government, the Region of Sicily and Italy's National Research Council to create a $398 million (€330 million) Biomedical Research and Biotechnology Center (BRBC), also to be located in Sicily.

Funded completely by the Italian government, the new center will be jointly managed by UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. It will put Italy in the forefront of developing new drugs, vaccines, devices and other biomedical advances aimed at improving the health of its citizens and sparking economic development throughout the region.

"We have finalized all details in record time. In little more than 11 months, we have managed to find the necessary funds for what can become a financial and scientific resource for the entire Mediterranean Basin," said Gianfranco Micciché, deputy minister for economic affairs and finance for Southern Italy, at a press conference today in Rome.

For their part, UPMC and the School of Medicine, which comprise one of the leading biomedical research and academic medical centers in the United States, will oversee operations of the center and its scientific programs, train researchers and staff and help to attract research funding and private investors to support rapid commercialization of the discoveries made there. "The benefits of this partnership will reach far beyond Italy. The scientific breakthroughs made here will improve health care around the world, while strengthening our leading research and clinical programs in Pittsburgh," said Jeffrey A. Romoff, president of UPMC. "As we've already proven in Palermo, we have a unique ability to export our best clinical and scientific practices to our international partners."

The BRBC, expected to open by 2010, will focus on five of the most important areas in biomedical research: drug discovery, vaccine development, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, molecular imaging, and computational and structural biology. No other center in Italy will match the BRBC's size and scope. When fully operational, it is expected to employ more than 600 scientists on a campus that may eventually include a new hospital and medical school. The Italian center will complement the University of Pittsburgh's world-class research being conducted in these same areas.

"Together with our Italian colleagues, who are considered among the best scientific minds today, we can exponentially increase our ability to address the most challenging and complex questions in biomedical research," said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, health sciences, and dean of the medical school. "There are simply many more scientific questions to be addressed than any one center can possibly address by itself." The BRBC is expected to develop research partnerships with other Italian centers, as well as European and American scientists interested in the same lines of research.

For UPMC, the center is part of an international expansion effort that provides new revenue to support its core medical mission. In partnership with the Region of Sicily, UPMC in 1997 established the Istituto Mediterraneo per i Trapianti e Terapie ad Alta Specializzazione (ISMETT) to offer organ transplantation and advanced medical treatments in this underserved region. ISMETT, which opened its new facility in 2004, is expected to perform more than 120 transplants of livers, kidneys, hearts and other organs this year. UPMC also will open two cancer treatment centers in Ireland later this year, building on its reputation as a leader in cancer care.

Leveraging relationships with major companies, such as IBM and General Electric, UPMC will help the BRBC move promising research quickly from the lab to the marketplace, just as it's done in western Pennsylvania. The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC also have strong ties to venture capital firms in the U.S. and Europe, which could help to fuel the development of new biotechnology companies and a venture capital industry in Sicily.

Construction of the BRBC, to be located between the towns of Carini and Cinisi, will begin in 2007. The Italian government has budgeted €330 million over five years for construction and startup costs. Planning for the center began in 2005 after the Italian government and UPMC saw the positive results of their public-private partnership at the Palermo transplant center. A new foundation, called Ri.Med, has been created to provide continuing support and oversight of the BRBC. The foundation consists of five partners: the Italian government, the Region of Sicily, the National Research Council, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. Paolo Pucci di Benischi, secretary general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, is the foundation's president.

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