In 2017, Pittsburgh lost a well-known figure when Marc Malandro decided to head back to the Golden State. Now a Palo Alto local, Marc is the Vice President of Operations for the Science Initiative at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. But don't worry Pittsburgh, "I will still be a familiar face" he says.
Tell us a bit about your background.
[Marc Malandro] I am trained as a scientist in the life sciences with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I have always served at the interface of science and other areas like business and law. I have worked in large and small life sciences companies and started my own company focused on understanding the molecular basis of cancer for the development of new cancer therapeutics. Over my 14 years at Pitt, I was proud to help shepherd what was the Office of Technology management into one of the top 25 technology transfer organizations in the country and very fortunate to help develop the plans for and found the Innovation Institute.
You recently left Pittsburgh for the West Coast, how did you see the life sciences community evolve during your time here?
I don't think of it as leaving Pittsburgh since my children are here, and I am working with companies and organizations in the region. I will still be a familiar face. That said, the community has changed from a loosely associated group of CEO's who got together regularly to discuss war stories, into a community that is on the cusp of critical mass. Organizations working in the life science space like the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse helped lay the foundation on which new companies could be formed and supported as they grew. At the same time, the University of Pittsburgh was continuing to increase the amount of life science talent and research coming into the region. While new life science companies were being formed, it was not at a pace that matched the potential of Pitt and the region. Fast forward to now where there is now the Innovation Institute and the newly formed LifeX from the University of Pittsburgh; the formation of UPMC Enterprises; a renewed commitment from the local life science economic development ecosystem, including support from Life Sciences Pennsylvania; and a sea-change in the interest of all types of entrepreneurs in forming life science companies. While we still need to see some significant life science exits to demonstrate to investors outside the region that there is opportunity in Pittsburgh, the region is really on the verge of what I believe will be tremendous success.
When you think about life sciences in this region, what really stands out?
Of course I am biased, but I think of the breadth and depth of research and commercialization in the life sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, and its partnership with UPMC. The level of research matched with one of the largest academic health systems in the country, both committed to ensuring that research in laboratories gets to patients is something truly special in Pittsburgh.
What is CZI, and what is your role there?
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan in December 2015, is a new kind of philanthropic organization that brings together world-class engineering, grant-making, impact investing, policy, and advocacy work. Our initial areas of focus include supporting science through basic biomedical research and education through personalized learning. We are also exploring other issues tied to the promotion of equal opportunity including access to affordable housing and criminal justice reform. We look for bold ideas, regardless of structure and stage, and help them scale by pairing world-class engineers with subject matter experts to build tools that accelerate the pace of social progress. We make long-term investments because important breakthroughs often take decades or even centuries. My role at CZI is Vice President of Operations for the Science Initiative, and I serve as the interface between the Science group and other groups like business, legal and operations. I support our work by putting in place the proper policies, procedures and agreements to deliver on our strategy.
Will there be opportunities for CZI to work with organizations based here in Pittsburgh?
Absolutely! As CZI Science is supporting projects that accelerate science, like the Human Cell Atlas which really lie at the interface of biomedicine and data science, the strong research talent in the region at PITT, CMU and in other organizations would be valuable to these efforts. Our primary way of supporting projects is through open requests for applications (RFA's) which can be found at the Chan Zuckerberg website. Our next RFA will be in support of early career investigators using novel approaches to address fundamental biological problems in neurodegenerative disease.