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Columbia Business Monthly

South Carolina Life Sciences: Strong foundation, brilliant future

Sep 05, 2018 12:54PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Sam Konduros
President and CEO, SCBIO

Life sciences in South Carolina spans a diverse spectrum—from major pharmaceutical companies to globally-known medical device companies.

It encompasses start-ups and early stage innovation companies and embraces prestigious research universities and acclaimed healthcare systems employing some of America’s finest minds. It includes research and medical labs, bioscience-related distribution, even Bio-Ag tied to the state’s historical agricultural segment.

This multi-faceted industry is collectively committed to creating life sciences products and technologies that help improve quality of life for all of us—and serves as a vital factor in improving delivery and access of affordable, high quality healthcare here and around the world.

It’s big business, too—globally, and here in South Carolina. Recent headlines jump off the page. Medical device manufacturer Arthrex announces 1,000 new high-paying jobs in the Upstate. Nephron Pharmaceuticals relocates its headquarters and operations to the Midlands, employing more than 700 and investing more than $340 million. Bio-Ag leader Valagro launches production operations in Orangeburg County. Nutraceuticals manufacturer Thorne selects the Charleston area for a 300+-employee, 200,000-square-foot facility. There have been dozens of announcements—with more to come.

On a relative basis, life sciences now ranks as the fastest-growing major industry innovation sector in the Palmetto State, and one of the fastest in America. And while smaller in scale than some of its more mature counterparts, it’s surprising to note that the business of life sciences here is even outpacing the better known automotive and aerospace industries in annual percentage growth.

Today, this dynamic industry boasts more than 400 life sciences companies in South Carolina—with more than 1,500 related businesses spanning every single county in the Palmetto State. This industry that fuels a knowledge economy like no other, and pays some of the highest wages in the market, has an economic impact exceeding $11.4 billion per year, employing 15,012 directly (and more than 40,000 related positions) with salaries exceeding $78,000 annually.

Truly, a strong foundation.

Championing life sciences in South Carolina is SCBIO—the state’s only exclusively focused life sciences association and economic development organization. In its second year under new and invigorated leadership and a passionate Board of Directors, the investor-driven public/private organization is resolutely focused on building America’s most industry-friendly and innovative life sciences ecosystem to fuel the state’s knowledge economy growth.

SCBIO’s growing base of stakeholders includes industry, academia, government, economic development, healthcare providers, patient advocacy organizations, and service providers. Signature partnerships include the S.C. Department of Commerce, South Carolina Research Authority, regional economic development alliances, the state’s major research universities, elected officials, service providers, business executives, and thought leaders across the state.

SCBIO serves as official state affiliate of both BIO and AdvaMed—the nation’s largest trade associations representing biotechnology (pharma, drug development, Bio-Ag) and med-tech (medical devices, health IT, and more) respectively, along with deeply embedded relationships with PhRMA, SEMDA (Southeast Medical Device Association), SEBIO (Southeast Bio), and fellow state BIO and life sciences organizations. Doing so raises the profile of South Carolina as a state on the move in life sciences and creates awareness, opportunity, and connectivity for Palmetto State organizations.

Industry advancements of the past year include:

A high-energy conference that attracted hundreds of attendees from across America, with signature presentations by the governor, commerce department, research university presidents, industry leaders, venture capitalists, and federal officials; the 2018 Conference (Oct. 23-25 in Charleston) is already creating buzz and expects record attendance;

Unprecedented growth in strategic and financial support by industry stakeholders;

More than 20 industry networking events spanning the state, including a Life Sciences Boot Camp, Industry Forum, Legislative Forum & Reception, and Executive Meet-Ups;

The launch of the Industry & Innovation Council of life science thought leaders and content experts who truly understand the DNA of the industry;

The interviewing of dozens of industry CEOs and senior leaders on industry needs, and conducting of a statewide survey of workforce needs;

Leading South Carolina life science participation in major conferences and trade shows in Germany, Dubai, San Diego, Boston, San Jose, Washington D.C., and New York;

Leading or supporting state events around venture capital access, life sciences education, innovation, and med-tech; and

Assisting major economic development opportunities, resulting in announced projects here.

Yet as solid as the foundation is, the future for South Carolina life sciences is even brighter.

Led by its Board and core team, SCBIO’s focus is trained on:

Convening and connecting the life sciences industry;

Providing aggressive, innovative, and multifaceted economic development strategies and support to S.C. Commerce and the state’s economic development regional marketing group’s as South Carolina’s life sciences specialists/experts;

Assuming the role of master storytellers and marketing experts for South Carolina life sciences;

Vocally advocating for the industry and its members as called upon when crucial public policy issues arise or demand attention; and

Supporting innovation, R&D, capital attraction and health sciences/patient initiatives to ensure that our state’s healthcare industry is engaged in the life sciences conversation.

Perhaps the single most important undertaking was the weighty responsibility of authoring the state’s inaugural Strategic Plan for the Life Sciences Industry, through which SCBIO has catalyzed a powerful conversation among stakeholders and created an initial framework to drive targeted growth and advancement in both the scope and sophistication of this dynamic, rising industry in South Carolina. 

Enriched with input from diverse stakeholders, the plan will help focus efforts and investment to creatively and innovatively build life sciences here. It aims to move the needle in the Palmetto State—leveraging our strengths, tackling weaknesses, and seizing opportunities—while dealing with implications of global trends we’ll face in the future.

The plan is a starting point. But it is the quality and the engagement of the life sciences industry that ultimately will pay off for South Carolina and its citizens, improving our health, quality of life, and economic future.

And South Carolina is blessed with a robust foundation of outstanding life sciences organizations to lead us into the future.

They include forward-thinking firms like Nephron Pharmaceuticals, whose state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters in Lexington County produces billions of life-enhancing drug doses annually. 

It includes Patheon, part of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s operations in Florence, employing hundreds of associates as a major producer of globally-sought active pharmaceutical ingredients. 

Greenville’s AVX develops critically important capacitors integrated into an astonishing array of pacemakers and defibrillators that extend life for patients worldwide. 

Greenwood’s Genetics Center features some of the world’s top autism and rare disease researchers. ZEUS Industrial’s globally positioned med-tech team proudly calls Orangeburg home. Chartspan—birthed in an Upstate incubator and serving the Health IT space—has added hundreds of jobs. And our state is witnessing a rising tide of digital health companies exploding across the Lowcountry, Midlands, Pee Dee, and Upstate. 

More than $520 million in R&D funding enters the Palmetto State annually from the National Science Foundation and NIH, much flowing to the state’s three major research universities—The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the University of South Carolina (USC), and Clemson University—and their growing arsenal of life sciences researchers and inventors. 

Angel funding and venture capital is increasingly accessible. Patent applications are surging. Talent is graduating from our technical colleges and universities and moving here from afar to be part of South Carolina’s emerging success story. It’s compelling, data-driven proof that life sciences is rapidly emerging as a new juggernaut for economic diversification and high-paying jobs in South Carolina. 

Still, the path will not be easy. 

The competition is fierce, the challenges many. We are still fledgling in comparison with some of our life sciences neighbors, including North Carolina and Georgia. Yet we now have an impactful story to tell, and an energized ecosystem that can hold its own with anyone. South Carolina life sciences is already generating significant interest, attention, investment, jobs, and opportunity. With laser-like economic development strategies that strengthen, attract, and support coveted life sciences organizations and R&D, we will accelerate progress. 

Right here, in South Carolina.

And while the metrics are already impressive, most important is the rare opportunity that this industry has to touch our lives in a very personal and transformational way—extending life, enhancing quality of life, and relieving suffering.

Join us on this journey together to a brilliant future—here, in South Carolina.

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