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Life Sciences: A Growing Economic Juggernaut for South Carolina

Oct 02, 2017 10:58AM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Sam Konduros
President & CEO, SCBIO

Building the business of life sciences in South Carolina has become the call to action and theme of the 2017 annual conference of the S.C. Biotechnology Industry Organization. The rapidly evolving statewide industry association proactively facilitates and spearheads multi-faceted efforts to build, advance, and grow the life sciences industry in South Carolina in alignment and coordination with major stakeholders representing industry, academia, government, economic development, health care providers and payers, patient advocacy organizations, industry service providers, and beyond.

Newly forged and deepening partnerships with the S.C. Department of Commerce, the South Carolina Research Authority, regional economic development alliances, research universities, and business leaders are generating fuel for this industry sector, which boasts more than 400 companies located in every region of the state, with average salaries reaching $78,000, and an economic impact that already tops $11 billion per year in the Palmetto State.

A growing roster of SCBIO industry partners and members covers the diverse spectrum of life sciences. These range from major pharmaceutical companies, to globally known medical device companies, to start-ups and early stage innovation companies focused on digital health solutions to improve the delivery and access of affordable, high quality health care.

An example of the new face of life sciences in South Carolina is Nephron Pharmaceuticals, with an advanced manufacturing and corporate campus in the Columbia area, which now approaches $400 million in total capital investment. Nephron has also recently decided to relocate its global headquarters from Orlando, Fla. to Lexington County. 

Other life science industry stories abound across the state – from Greenville’s AVX developing critically important capacitors that are integrated into an array of pacemakers and defibrillators, to Patheon’s reactivation of the former Roche facility in Florence, to a rising tide of digital health companies making their presence known throughout the Charleston region, housed within emerging industry locations such as the Harbor Entrepreneur Center at the Pacific Box & Crate Campus – also home to SCBIO’s new Charleston office.

With more than $520 million in R&D funding directed to the Palmetto State by the National Science Foundation and the NIH alone, with much of that flowing to MUSC, USC, and Clemson and their growing arsenal of life sciences researchers and inventors, and to unique R&D hubs such as the Greenwood Genetic Center, this is an industry that can accelerate South Carolina’s movement into a knowledge-based economy, as confirmed by a recent study conducted by USC’s Darla Moore School of Business. The comprehensive study was funded by the S.C. Department of Commerce and the South Carolina Research Authority, and has quantified the economic impact of this industry that has many opportunities to scale up in S.C. The study makes a case that life sciences is rapidly emerging as a new juggernaut for economic diversification and high-paying jobs in South Carolina, along with the automotive and aerospace industries.

To this end, SCBIO and its partners and supporters have empowered the still-young organization to enter a period of unprecedented growth, with new offices established in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston since June of this year to create a more visible and engaging statewide presence – armed with a new website and updated brand architecture. The organization’s board of directors and executive committee have engaged in strategic planning sessions with a statewide portfolio of economic development allies and industry leaders, empowering SCBIO’s new leadership to build a lean but sustainable team that can help take the organization – and most importantly, the state’s life sciences industry – to the next level.

The primary mission areas of the organization are being honed to deliver maximum results in the years ahead – largely through highly collaborative relationships with critically important partners throughout the state. These will focus heavily on effectively convening the state’s industry stakeholders, facilitating high-impact economic development strategies in partnership with the S.C. Department of Commerce and regional alliances. They will also serve as an effective advocate and voice for the industry in Columbia and Washington, supporting research and innovation initiatives in partnership with SCRA and the three major state research universities.

The goal is also to help attract additional capital to help fund the growing number of life science start-ups and early stage companies taking root in the state, and spearheading integrated marketing strategies to effectively map the state’s myriad of assets in this sector and tell the S.C. life sciences story in a compelling way on a global basis.

SCBIO is showing up at globally recognized life sciences conferences across the country and will be tackling international economic development missions for the first time in its history. From this September through early 2018, SCBIO will be representing the Palmetto State’s burgeoning life sciences industry at the MedTech Conference in San Jose, MEDICA in Dusseldorf, BIO State CEO’s National Strategic Retreat, and Arab Health in Dubai – in addition to preparing for deep participation in 2018’s BIO International Conference to be held in Boston.

In addition to making South Carolina’s life sciences value proposition better known throughout the world, the organization’s most prolific shift in recent months is a new focus on economic development strategies. These are aimed at strengthening and supporting the continued growth of an impressive roster of existing industries, the attraction and recruitment of highly coveted new life sciences industries and R&D opportunities to the state, and the development of an ecosystem which will support S.C.’s ability to nurture, develop, and grow our own life science companies that are born in the Palmetto State.

This newly forged economic impact focus will be central to the theme of “building the business of life sciences in S.C.” during the upcoming annual conference to be held at the Gaillard Center in Charleston Oct. 24-26, which will kick off with a reception on the rooftop of Charleston’s Grand Bohemian Hotel. The signature annual event is being designed more as a forum and high-energy conversation between stakeholders than conferences of past years, and will be punctuated with signature presentations from the governor, the commerce department, research university presidents, industry leaders, venture capitalists, and federal officials.

The exciting news is that South Carolina is no longer simply the humble state next door to known life sciences powerhouses such as North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park and Atlanta’s life sciences hub anchored by Emory and the CDC.  We have a compelling story to tell and S.C. is just getting started in this arena, with a commitment to develop and implement a very deliberate and impactful statewide strategic plan for life sciences that has never existed. And while the growing numbers are already impressive, perhaps most important is the rare opportunity that this unique and complex industry has to touch all of our families’ lives in a very personal way – extending life, enhancing quality of life, and relieving suffering.
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