Startups

Power Moves: Krystal Biotech’s CBO hire marks continuing growth for Pittsburgh life sciences

Plus, key hires and promotions at Niche, Neighborhood Allies and US Steel.

Jing Marantz, new chief business officer for Krystal Biotech.

(Photo via LinkedIn)

Power Moves is a column where we chart the comings and goings of talent across the region. Got a new hire, gig or promotion? Email us: pittsburgh@technical.ly.


Krystal Biotech hires a new chief business officer

Local gene therapy startup Krystal Biotech announced in January that it had appointed Jing Marantz as its chief business officer, in addition to appointing Rand Sutherland to the startup’s board of directors.

Marantz brings a wealth of biopharmaceutical experience to the table, including from her previous roles as the SVP and head of medical affairs at Acceleron Pharma (acquired by Merck) and as the SVP and head of medical affairs at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, where she spearheaded two global product launches.

The exec’s move to the Pittsburgh life sciences company is a hopeful sign for what seems to be a growing sector in the city. With early successes this year from fellow startups like Peptilogics and big deals last year with Cognition Therapeutics‘ IPO and Castle Biosciencesacquisition of Cernostics, there slowly seems to be the money, talent and commercialization mindset that’s required to create a thriving life sciences entrepreneurship community. (Another hopeful sign: Peptilogics pulled supercomputing bigwig Nicholas Nystrom from a 30-year research career to become its CTO, further indicating the local startup sector’s draw.)

“I am excited to welcome Jing and Rand to the Krystal team at such a pivotal time for our lead investigational program, VYJUVEK for dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, and as we advance our rare pulmonary disease pipeline,” said Krish Krishnan, chairman and CEO of Krystal Biotech, in a statement. “Jing will be an integral part of the executive leadership team as we continue to grow the company and strengthen our platform opportunities. Rand brings clinical, R&D and corporate strategy expertise that will be invaluable as we continue our mission to be a fully integrated gene therapy company.”

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Niche hires two new executives to start the year

College connection platform Niche announced that it had made two key hires at the start of 2022: Kelly Lavin as the company’s first chief people officer and Paul Moore as its VP of engineering. Most recently, Lavin comes from a people operations position at Jobvite, while Moore comes from an engineering role at The Knot Worldwide.

Paul Moore. (Photo via LinkedIn)

The news of these two hires comes after a year of rapid expansion for Niche, which increased its number of full-time employees from 156 to 241 in 2021. By the end of 2022, the company shared that it has plans to reach a total of 330 full-time employees.

“I’m thrilled to have Kelly and Paul at the helm of two very robust teams,” Niche founder and CEO Luke Skurman said in a press release. “Kelly has been a successful executive at several growth stage companies, so she will bring key expertise to our People team and the business as a whole. Paul’s deep understanding of marketplaces as well as his experience scaling engineering teams will help strengthen and grow our engineering function. I’m excited to work with each of them to push the company forward.”

Lavin’s role in particular will be important as the company pursues its lofty goals for the new year. As the first chief people officer for Niche, she’ll fine-tune the hiring process and develop more formal programs around leadership development, retention and performance management for the company. Moore, the new VP of engineering, will be at the helm of new feature development for Niche’s services and will also ensure that the processes for all engineering are sustainable for the company.

Neighborhood Allies promotes Itha Cao to director of digital inclusion and innovation

Itha Cao. (Photo via LinkedIn)

After working as the senior program manager for digital inclusion at the Neighborhood Allies for the past few months, Itha Cao will take on a new role as the nonprofit’s director of digital inclusion and innovation. In this new role, Cao will lead Neighborhood Allies’ efforts to bring area residents computer literacy skills, computer ownership and high speed internet. Before joining the org in 2021, Cao worked as a senior civic innovation specialist for the City of Pittsburgh, where she led civic tech innovation efforts and managed city-run accelerator PGHLab.

“Itha’s years of experience in the digital equity space and programming is a gift and asset to our organization. In just the limited time she has been on the Neighborhood Allies team, she has been steadfast in making sure that critical partnerships in this space are strengthened and maintained,” COO Stephanie Chernay said in an announcement of the news. “I’m impressed with her abilities and commitment to our mission. I look forward to seeing where Itha takes the digital equity and access space!”

Allegheny Health Network physicians join clinical trial on treatment for Alzheimer’s

In January, Allegheny Health Network announced that some of its physicians, led by chair of AHN’s Neurosciences Institute and AHN chief medical officer Donald Whiting, would participate in a clinical trial using deep brain stimulation as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The international clinical trial, ADvance II Study, is in phase 3 and is only being offered to potential patients at a select number of medical facilities across the world, including only 20 in the US.

This phase of the trial will take four years to complete, and only patients 65 or older who are diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s can qualify for the treatment, which will be admitted according to typical randomized, double-blind procedures. Those accepted into the trial will receive a neurostimulator implantation in order to directly apply electrical stimulation in the brain according to study protocols.

“We have known from our use of DBS for almost two decades to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and essential tremor that the procedure is a safe and generally well-tolerated therapy,” Whiting said in a press release.

US Steel names new SVP of advanced technology steelmaking

Daniel Brown. (Courtesy photo)

Longtime Pittsburgh industrial company US Steel announced this week that it had appointed previous VP Daniel Brown as the new SVP of advanced technology steelmaking and COO of Big River Steel Works, a technologically advanced mill located in Arkansas. He will also be in charge of a second mill with similar tech advances that has yet to be announced by the company.

“Dan Brown is the highly capable, engaged, and effective leader you hope to find in your organization,” said U.S. Steel president and CEO David Burritt in a press release. “As the leader of Big River Steel, he has been remarkable and we will need even more of his talents with the planned addition of another technologically advanced mill, electrical steel production capabilities and industry leading finishing capabilities. As an integral member of the executive team Dan’s advancement is consistent with his significant value to the company.”

Though not fully relevant to Pittsburgh tech news, the promotion is noteworthy in the context of US Steel’s recent investment in Carnegie Foundry with the goal of leveraging robotics and AI expertise here for more advanced steel production. Though it remains unclear if US Steel will use that tech in mills near Pittsburgh, it seems as though these new projects from the industrial company will at the very least use and benefit local tech talent.


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: U.S. Steel, Niche.com
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