Charlotte, NC Health and Life Sciences Industry Expands Global Prowess

Charlotte USA synthesizes top-level research facilities, highly regarded health-care organizations, a nucleus of talent across a range of disciplines, and superior capabilities in advanced manufacturing and materials to form a potent health and life sciences sector that now employs more than 10,000 people.

Kevin Litwin
On Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 05:00
Charlotte, NC

Charlotte USA synthesizes top-level research facilities, highly regarded health-care organizations, a nucleus of talent across a range of disciplines, and superior capabilities in advanced manufacturing and materials to form a potent health and life sciences sector that now employs more than 100,000 people.

The region's health and life sciences companies develop breakthrough advances and products in a synergistic process that attracts more companies and builds on current relationships. A prime example of the area's life sciences appeal is Medical Murray, which opened a new design and development facility in Charlotte in spring 2013. The Illinois-based medical device developer and manufacturer came to Charlotte to strengthen its Southeastern reach. Paul Imaoka, Medical Murray vice president, says the company saw an opportunity to fill a need by coming to Charlotte. The company develops highly sophisticated devices such as catheter systems, permanent implants and products that are completely compatible with the human body. It has developed nano-molding capabilities that include patented molding technology of parts weighing less than 1 gram. Potential clients for Medical Murray's design, development and regulatory process services run the gamut from sole entrepreneurs to large companies that can benefit from expertise with device manufacturing and services such as filing with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, quality management and pre-prototype production.

"The area has a lot of medical opportunity," Imaoka says. Further proof of the region's burgeoning medical manufacturing is the recent expansion of German-based Sarstedt, a health-care product manufacturer with extensive operations in Catawba County, N.C. The company invested more than $14 million in a 2012 expansion that added 50,000 square feet of distribution space. The company, which manufactures laboratory equipment and consumables and analytical equipment for medical diagnostics, said the expansion would allow more production to be moved from Germany to Catawba County, where it employs about 220 workers. Linet Americas is a more recent arrival to Charlotte USA. The Czech Republic-based manufacturer of hospital beds and mattresses put its North American headquarters in Charlotte in 2010 as a beachhead to build its U.S. client base. In early 2013, it signed a major deal with Premier Inc. to supply hospital beds and related equipment. Charlotte-based Premier is a purchasing alliance of more than 92,000 hospitals, health-care providers and health-care sites.

Promoting Life Sciences

A number of resources support and promote the industry. Among them is the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which has a 30-year history of creating opportunities for life sciences innovation and investment through efforts such as commercialization of research, talent development and funding.

The center's Greater Charlotte office has made bioinformatics one of its key targets, says Corie Curtis, executive director of the regional office.

Strategically located on the University of North Carolina, Charlotte campus, the regional office benefits from technical and scientific resources at the university. Regional work in bioinformatics, which includes software development to analyze biological data, piggybacks off resources available from Charlotte's vibrant financial sector as well. Curtis says the office promotes growth by connecting people in the community who would not otherwise have access to each other. "They may not always interact," Curtis says, "but we do." The office even helped secure funding and participants for an international biosciences symposium that brought significant recognition to the area. Curtis notes that global competitiveness is a growing issue, and the center helps other groups find ways to recognize talent and interest as early as possible, including working with kindergarteners through 12th-graders in addition to college students.

Bioinformatics and Nutrition Innovator

The Charlotte region's bioinformatics prowess can be found in food research, particularly with nutraceuticals and agricultural biotechnology. UNC Charlotte opened the Bioinformatics Research Center in 2010 at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, N.C. The center uses massive computing power to analyze and interpret volumes of data produced by the elaborate technologies involved in the study of genomes, the biological information found in every living organism. The NCRC itself is a testament to the power of public-private collaboration in Charlotte USA's life sciences sector. Envisioned by food industry pioneer David H. Murdock, the NCRC campus was developed on the site of a former textile complex, with Murdock investing $1.5 billion to help make it a reality. The NCRC now includes more than 1 million square feet of state-of-the-art lab and office space where universities, government agencies and private enterprises such as Dole Food Co., Monsanto and General Mills are advancing scientific knowledge about plants, fruits, vegetables and nutrition's links to disease and good health. The Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies, for example, works to improve nutrition in fruits and vegetables while still preserving taste. The center is part of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, one of eight North Carolina universities with a presence at the NCRC.

Clinical Trials Leader

The presence of highly regarded health-care systems such as Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health have made Charlotte USA a major center of clinical trials. Carolinas Medical Center, the Charlotte flagship hospital of Carolinas HealthCare System, in fall 2012 received an $8 million National Institutes of Health grant for a five-year study of how high doses of radiation that patients receive for head and neck cancer damage their tissue. Levine Cancer Institute at CMC and UNCC are collaborating on the Charlotte Pancreatic Cancer Project to leverage regional talent for innovative research. Carolinas HealthCare System is among the largest public health-care systems in the nation. Dr. Michael F. Dulin, chair and medical officer for CHS analytics and outcomes research, says the system uses its partnerships with life sciences companies to improve patient outcomes. "Because of the reach we have at Carolinas Healthcare System, we can not only impact a large number of people in our region but also influence national and international research," Dulin says.


Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.