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Digital Greenhouse leader to head Life Sciences project

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2001

Dennis Yablonsky, chief executive of the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse, is taking on added duties as leader of a new initiative geared to make western Pennsylvania a world leader in biotechnology.

Yablonsky, 49, was introduced as president and chief executive officer of Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Inc. at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel Tuesday. The Greenhouse is a newly incorporated partnership formed to spearhead the regional biotech effort.

"I think our goals can be met, absolutely" said Yablonsky, whose appointment follows by several weeks the release of an ambitious 10-year, $600 million plan for the new greenhouse.

Area leaders see the plan as a blueprint for creation of at least 5,000 jobs, another 10,600 spinoff jobs and the start-up or attraction of 110 bioscience companies.

Centerpiece of the plan is a hope to win a $40 million share of a $100 million funding pie the state has set aside to create three life sciences greenhouses in Pennsylvania.

It also includes an initiative known as BioVenture, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh to maximize benefits from biotech advances, including the Human Genome Project.

"Obviously, our first priority will be the state funding," said Yablonsky. "Now is the time to execute, and that is what I have been hired to do."

The region is competing for a disproportionate share of the state money with the Central Pennsylvania and Philadelphia areas, which also have submitted plans asking for $41.9 million and $45 million, respectively.

A decision on funding is expected later this fall, with awards coming as early as January.

In addition to those funds, Yablonsky will lead an effort to raise millions of dollars in funds from foundations, venture capital sources, and later from the federal government and private industry.

Optimizing all available sources ultimately will help the greenhouse reach its goals, Yablonsky said.

"I think we can accomplish meaningful, substantial things even if we don't raise the entire $600 million," he said. "We're talking about a lot of startup companies, attracting a lot of firms and a lot of jobs. We're also talking about substantially increasing the ability to do research, clinical trials and other activities."

"Dennis has a tough mandate: to transform our raw talent, research and ideas into internationally renowned products and companies, but our vision combines the desire to advance humanity with the need to advance the region," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, who was named co-chairman of a new 10-member Greenhouse board.

CMU President Jared L. Cohon, the other co-chairman, said Yablonsky should be able to build the bridges necessary to blend "the possibilities" of the laboratory and "the realities and opportunities" of the commercial world.

In the short term, Yablonsky said he will have to raise funds for running the day-to-day operations of the Life Sciences project and develop a budget and business plan. He will hire a staff that initially will include "three or four people," including a chief technology officer.

Yablonsky would not disclose his salary, but said responsibility for it will be shared by both Greenhouse organizations, based on the amount of time he spends working for each.

While remaining chief executive of the Digital Greenhouse, he will turn over responsibility for day-to-day operations there to David Ruppersberger, who has been named chief operating officer. Ruppersberger has been serving as vice president of business development at the Greenhouse, which is a state-sponsored initiative designed to make the region a world leader in microchip technology.

Although the two Greenhouse projects are incorporated as completely separate, nonprofit entities, they will co-habit space on the 11th floor of the Regional Enterprise Tower in Pittsburgh and likely will share such functions as human resources and a receptionist, Yablonsky said.

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