Immune Oncology Innovator BlueSphere Bio Names Veteran Biotech Leader David Apelian as CEO

With Pitt Expertise and UPMC Funding, BlueSphere’s TCXpress Platform to Develop Rapid, Personalized T-Cell Therapies for Cancer Treatment

BlueSphere Bio, an immunotherapy startup formed by UPMC Enterprises and focused on creating personalized therapies for cancer, announced today that David Apelian, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., has been named chief executive officer of the company. He joins top clinical immunology experts and company co-founders Mark Shlomchik, M.D., Ph.D., and Warren Shlomchik, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh to advance the TCXpress platform to develop rapid, personalized T-cell therapies for cancer.

A biotechnology and health care executive with more than 20 years of experience, Apelian joins BlueSphere Bio from Eiger Pharmaceuticals in Palo Alto, California, where he served as chief operations officer and executive medical officer, providing medical oversight and strategic guidance on clinical programs.

Founded recently as part of UPMC’s $200 million initial commitment to the Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC), BlueSphere Bio is using its novel TCXpress technology platform to create personalized therapies developed with a patient’s own T-cells. Its groundbreaking approach is faster and more efficient than conventional methods, and initially will be used to develop new cancer therapies. Unlike CAR-T solutions, T-cell therapies are expected to be more effective in treating solid tumors and with fewer side effects.

“Never before have the scientific breakthroughs in immunotherapy held so much promise for patients,” said Apelian. “With its unique technology and unparalleled scientific, clinical and corporate resources—thanks to the financial strength and vision of UPMC Enterprises and the world-class immunology expertise of co-founders Mark and Warren Shlomchik– BlueSphere Bio is destined to be a leader in the exciting field of T-cell therapy for cancer. I look forward to advancing this groundbreaking technology to the clinic and being part of that success.”

Before joining Eiger Pharmaceuticals as a board member in 2017, Apelian held executive positions at Achillion Pharmaceuticals, GlobeImmune, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Schering Plough Research Institute. He also worked as a resident physician at New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center.

“Dave brings a wealth of experience in managing biopharmaceutical companies, large and small, plus the clinical and scientific understanding needed to drive advances from the bench to the bedside,” said Jeanne Cunicelli, executive vice president of UPMC Enterprises, which led the creation and initial funding of BlueSphere Bio. “We are excited to add Dave’s unusual combination of skills to those of the Pitt physician-researchers behind our breakthrough immunotherapy technology. The board would also like to thank Dr. Rob Lin for leading BlueSphere Bio’s significant progress to date and building a strong company foundation as interim CEO.”

Apelian earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Rutgers University before attending medical school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He then completing his pediatrics residency at the New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center. Board-certified in pediatrics, Apelian completed his MBA at Quinnipiac University.