South Carolina has long been known for its colorful history, beautiful beaches and vibrant tourist industry. In recent decades, it has also come to be well known for its high-tech manufacturing with the likes of BMW, Boeing, Honda, Michelin, Samsung and Volvo, all locating large manufacturing facilities throughout the State. What you might not know is that South Carolina is also home to another rapidly growing high-tech industry—the Life Sciences industry.
The term Life Sciences is generally used to include companies in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, life systems technologies, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, food processing, environmental, and biomedical devices. The Life Sciences industry also includes organizations and institutions that devote the majority of their efforts in the various stages of research, development, technology transfer and commercialization, as well as the companies who support these entities.
According to SCBIO, the trade association which represents the Life Sciences industry in South Carolina, there are over 700 companies and businesses actively engaged in the Life Sciences industry in South Carolina and at least one Life Sciences organization is located in 42 of the State’s 46 counties. The economic impact of the Life Sciences industry is approaching $12 billion per year and is continuing to increase, according to a recent study. It is also estimated that the Life Sciences industry has created over 40,000 high paying jobs in South Carolina over the last several years, with an average annual salary of over $70,000.
The Life Sciences industry in South Carolina is very diverse. It includes companies ranging from small startups focusing on developing new technology like Okra Medical, to a unique genetic clinical and research institution like Greenwood Genetic Center, which has been serving the State for decades, to large established companies like Nephron Pharmaceuticals. Nephron is a pharmaceutical manufacturer and cGMP compliant 503(B) Outsourcing facility, and a global leader in the manufacture of generic respiratory medication that has rapidly expanded its manufacturing capacity and services over the last seven years. Nephron is owned and led by Lou Kennedy, whose vision and leadership have spurred the Company’s growth and success and have also made her one of the State’s most important business leaders, as well as an important thought leader in the Life Sciences industry.
South Carolina is a pro-business state that has worked diligently to attract large companies looking for a friendlier business climate from a tax and regulatory perspective. An additional driver for the growth of the Life Sciences industry is the existing ecosystem for Life Sciences, which is supported by the State’s three major research universities: University of South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina and Clemson University as well as over ten additional universities and colleges in the State - from Furman University with its innovation program and nationally recognized chemistry department, to Newberry College launching new curriculum and a degree focused on pharmaceutical manufacturing. These universities and colleges further validate the increasing depth of the existing ecosystem and the positive impact it will have on strengthening the talent pool available to the Life Sciences industry. Other factors contributing towards this growth are the efforts of the South Carolina Department of Commerce and the South Carolina Research Authority, the strong system of hospitals and health care systems within the State, the support of various economic development alliances, the State’s expanding technical college system, the support of elected officials and the growth and leadership of SCBIO over the last several years.
SCBIO has spearheaded a series of joint private / public initiatives to promote the growth of the Life Sciences industry in South Carolina. These efforts include promoting statewide economic development strategies to attract Life Sciences companies to locate or relocate in South Carolina and consistently promoting and strengthening the existing ecosystem which allows established South Carolina Life Sciences organizations to collaborate, grow and flourish. In addition to its economic development efforts, SCBIO has integrated its efforts with the broader mission to transform and positively impact healthcare as evidenced by its unique alliances forged with the South Carolina Hospital Association, several large health systems and large payers like Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina. For the past four years, SCBIO has been led by its CEO, Sam Konduros. Konduros has experience with economic development, operations of Life Sciences companies, developing start-up companies and most importantly—developing and implementing an ambitious strategic plan for the Life Sciences industry. During his time at SCBIO, Konduros has assembled a talented team. His vision and energy have fueled a rapid growth in membership and engagement and an increased in awareness and support for the Life Sciences industry across the State. Under his leadership, SCBIO significantly expanded its membership and quadrupled its revenues, while at the same time establishing itself as a powerful force for economic development and creating a new platform for Life Sciences companies to collaborate on innovations and research. Earlier this month, Konduros announced his departure from SCBIO to serve on the Board of Vikor Scientific, another successful company within the Life Sciences space in South Carolina that is rapidly expanding. He will also serve as CEO of a new health innovation company powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies focusing on science personalized medicine strategies that will be a part of Vikor Scientific’s expanding portfolio of companies. SCBIO is conducting a national search for Konduros’ replacement and there is no doubt that the association and its members will continue to benefit from the momentum created over the last four years as it continues to push the Life Sciences industry forward.
The global COVID-19 pandemic presented a profound challenge to the Life Sciences industry as it disrupted the way business was conducted. The Life Sciences industry in South Carolina stepped up to these challenges and turned them into opportunities. Many Life Sciences companies pivoted from their existing strategic plans to address the needs of the State and Nation by providing assistance in key areas that became critical during the pandemic. Companies like Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Vikor Scientific, KIYATEC, Premier Medical Lab Services and others offered much needed expanded COVID-19 testing services inside and outside South Carolina. Others such as ZVerse, a digital manufacturing company, modified its business model to become one of the largest producers of reusable face shields for use during the pandemic and beyond. Over the last 12 months, they have produced millions of these reusable facemasks and have been recognized throughout the country for their efforts. Rhythmlink International, a medical device leader, donated thousands of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals and other healthcare providers across South Carolina. In addition, Milliken & Company boosted its production of biosmart fabrics used in scrubs and lab coats, which uses chlorine bleach-activated technology and molecular engineering to kill up to 99.9% of the bacteria and viruses it touches. Headquartered in Greenville, Vitalink Research was selected by Moderna to run its Phase III vaccine clinical trial, demonstrating national confidence in Life Sciences research operations in South Carolina. These are just a few examples of how South Carolina Life Sciences companies responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight why the Life Sciences industry is one of the fastest growing segments of South Carolina’s economy.
The future of the Life Sciences industry is bright in South Carolina. South Carolina has become an attractive place to develop and expand Life Sciences companies and there is great leadership within these companies. The rapid growth of Life Sciences is becoming more apparent to the public and media. In February 2021, Governor McMaster proclaimed February 15-19 as South Carolina Life Sciences Week in the Palmetto State. Our Life Sciences companies are leading the discussions of how to bring more Life Sciences manufacturing back to the U.S, including to South Carolina, and how to develop a domestic source of PPE and other parts of the supply chain. There is also increased collaboration on leveraging increased use of technology like telehealth and digital health to deliver health care services to rural and less developed areas using technology developed and perfected in South Carolina. SCBIO is also leading an effort to expand and improve the workforce to support Life Sciences companies. All signs point to a very bright future for the Life Sciences industry and South Carolina is just beginning to see the benefits of this growth and development.