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Life Sciences Soar in Eastern North Carolina

Learn more about the strength and influence of the life sciences sector in Eastern North Carolina and how the region’s highly educated workforce, easily accessible location, strong infrastructure and appealing quality of life enhance it.

By Teree Caruthers on August 23, 2015

Greenville, NC
Greenville / Courtesy of Pantheon

When speaking about his company’s North American home base, Franco Negron finds it easy to extol the many benefits of operating in North Carolina and in the eastern part of the state in particular. “

When you look at our footprint here – Durham, High Point and Greenville – it’s clear that North Carolina provides all of the elements required to build a successful business,” says Negron, senior vice president of commercial operations for Patheon, the world’s-largest contract biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing firm.

The company is part of a thriving life sciences sector in Eastern North Carolina whose strength and influence extend internationally, thanks to the region’s highly educated workforce, strategic location, strong infrastructure and appealing quality of life. The industry employs some 8,000 workers in high-paying jobs for major suppliers and core companies ranging from research centers to manufacturers.

Seeing Green

The region’s life sciences hub is Greenville, where Patheon – a unit of DPx that recently merged with DSM Pharmaceuticals – is investing $159 million to expand its flagship sterile-manufacturing facility, creating 488 new jobs in addition to its 1,000 already in place.

Greenville’s diverse cadre of life sciences firms also includes ArroGen (formerly Genome I.D.), which operates a state-of-the-art forensics lab that analyzes DNA to help solve crimes; and RTI Surgical, which makes and distributes metal and synthetic products for orthopedics, biologics, spine, trauma and cardiothoracic markets. Its Greenville facility manufactures a locally developed e-matrix that accelerates tissue regeneration.

In Greenville, Patheon and its cohorts have found “a strong community, with support from academics, government and regulatory agencies, and of course, a great workforce that has proven to be extremely committed, dedicated and passionate about the business we’re in,” Negron says.

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Talent Infusion

Other leading biopharmaceutical firms with a vital presence in the region include Merck, BD, Sandoz, Mayne Pharma, Purdue, CMP Pharma, West Pharmaceutical and Hospira. The region has also attracted key suppliers such as Berry Plastics, which produces vials; West Pharmaceutical Servies, which manufactures rubber stoppers and closures; and Aylward, which makes production machinery. Illinois-based Hospira, the world’s leading provider of injectable drugs and infusion technologies with revenues topping $4 billion, employs 17,000 workers worldwide, including 2,500 at its recently expanded, modernized manufacturing facility in Rocky Mount.

While Eastern North Carolina boasts a number of satellite locations for larger firms, the region has also produced many homegrown startups in the life sciences sector that continue to flourish in the region. The long list includes CTMG, Metrics (recently acquired by Australia-based Mayne Pharma), MXBiodevices and Prima Tech USA, a leading maker and distributor of animal-health applicators.

Clinical Clout

Dr. Anton-Lewis Usala founded CTMG in 2004 “to bring clinical trial-specific operational processes and real-time quality review systems to the medical expertise of our partnering physician investigators,” he says.

Usala chose Eastern North Carolina as CTMG’s home base “because of the combination of spirited investors and medical professionals that shared our vision of bringing clinical-trial excellence to the region,” he says, adding that “the possibility of working with the large health-care institutions found here, including Vidant and the Brody School of Medicine, was also a factor.” CTMG works primarily with health-care institutions and private physician groups.

The company recently began a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on mutually beneficial studies, and “our goal this year is to seek a similar relationship with hospitals and university medical centers in the eastern part of the state, where we started,” Usala says.

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Training Future Researchers

The educational expertise that company leaders praise within the region extends to East Carolina University (ECU), which is preparing students for jobs in life sciences fields through a new degree concentration in forensic science and a new master’s in biomedical engineering. The forensic degree is designed to encourage more students to pursue science as a career, says Dr. Anthony Kennedy, an associate professor and director of the multidisciplinary forensic science program within ECU’s Department of Chemistry.

“Naturally, economic development centered on the natural sciences in this region is dependent on a well-skilled labor pool,” he says. “By expanding that pool of labor, we hope to contribute to the economic growth and development of Eastern North Carolina.”

Likewise, ECU’s biomedical engineering master’s degree aims to “to prepare students for employment in industries ranging from medical devices, tissue engineering and biomedical laboratories at the university and industry level to STEM education in regional community colleges and universities,” says Dr. Barbara J. Muller-Borer, an associate professor of engineering and cardiovascular sciences at ECU.

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