There’s a reason RTI Surgical, Patheon, Merck, Hospira (a Pfizer company) and several other life science companies are at home in Eastern North Carolina. Key assets, such as a network of hospitals and research facilities, abundant skilled talent developed by area community colleges and East Carolina University (ECU), which offers a number of programs supporting research and development, have helped stimulate life sciences innovation in the region.
DR Burton Healthcare, a respiratory device manufacturer, is an example of that growth.
“Eastern North Carolina is attractive for businesses,” says Dennis Cook, CEO of respiratory device manufacturer DR Burton, which relocated its headquarters and manufacturing center to Farmville in 2016. “Our company chose this area after an exhaustive national search to locate our headquarters. Like other life science organizations, we sought a business climate that supports international growth, access to an educated and committed workforce, and a community shaped by solid personal values. Eastern North Carolina has what it takes to help propel healthcare forward.”
Breeding Innovation at East Carolina University
Cook says another attractive asset was East Carolina University (with nearly 29,000 students) and the transfer of talent, knowledge and research it offers companies.
“The life science industry is driven by innovation and science, coupled with business acumen to change the face of medicine. East Carolina University has demonstrated leadership in attracting and educating people who are the cornerstone of building a healthier America,” Cook says.
ECU recently began construction on the East Carolina Research and Innovation Campus, a “millennial campus” housed in renovated buildings in Greenville’s warehouse district. The campus offers space and business resources to help researchers and start-up companies commercialize research discoveries. In 2015 alone, ECU was awarded 13 patents and had 14 active license agreements with businesses.
“I have a vision that our students ultimately will come out with not just an academic transcript, but also their own portfolio of innovations, their resume and their Rolodex of connections that they’ve already forged,” says Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor of engagement, innovation and economic development at ECU. “Whether they go on to be an intrapreneur, an entrepreneur or a socialpreneur doesn’t matter to me. They can be job takers or job creators wherever they land if they have the proper skills to help places survive and grow.”
The millennial campus will also house a $90 million Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building, which will feature classroom space as well as laboratory space for research and product development.
The new building will house the university’s Pharmaceutical Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence, its bioprocess and biomedical engineering programs and the Department of Biology. ECU administration hopes the campus project will increase the number of engineers it graduates from 700 to 1,000
Pharmaceutical Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence
The Pharmaceutical Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence at ECU prepares students for careers in pharmaceutical manufacturing. ECU partnered with Pitt Community College and regional pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Patheon, Hospira and Mayne Pharma, to develop a laboratory-based education and training network that will keep a pipeline of talent flowing to the region’s growing pharmaceutical industry.
Morris says the work being done at the university and by life science companies across the region is playing a major role in the evolution of health care.
“The university has an obligation to make sure we’re promoting research across the organization — from undergraduate students to graduate students to faculty — and we must make sure that research is targeting the needs of the region, whether it’s bridging health disparities or keeping our communities healthy and vibrant, or making our military bases as strong and resilient as possible, or supporting our industry clusters. There’s a lot we can be doing to answer pressing questions in the region and in the state and beyond, and we need to do that,” Morris says.