South Carolina is a rising leader in the life sciences industry, attracting domestic and international biotechs, pharmaceutical giants, educators and researchers. The state also boasts unparalleled networking initiatives, empowering South Carolina's universities, health-care systems and life science companies.
Spearheading that partnership is SCBIO, a membership organization that advances South Carolina's life science industry through collaboration, advocacy, workforce development, enhanced purchasing power and education. The group helps connect members with needed resources ranging from capital to regulatory issues to translational research, facilities and incubator assistance.
"We have a record of entrepreneurship and unique partnerships, and institutions willing to partner to complete a link," says Wayne Roper, president of SCBIO.
Universities are a vital link in the state's life sciences chain. The University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) all operate thriving life science programs and business incubators, and are eager partners in collaboration and research.
Located in Charleston, MUSC includes six colleges and more than 2,600 students. The school receives more external research funding than any other state university. In 2011, faculty received 1,282 extramural awards totaling $243 million, with federal funding making up about 70 percent of extramural support.
Dr. Stephen Lanier, associate provost for research at MUSC, relocated to South Carolina after seeing first-hand the state's commitment to life sciences.
"The two major themes that appealed to me were the dramatic growth of research programs across the state, and partnerships being developed among the three major research universities and health-care providers in the state," Lanier says. "It was clear to me that the alignment of support systems was ramping up the energy around biomedical-based technology development."
Today, Lanier helps MUSC build regional infrastructure and intellectual partnerships including the development of clinical trial programs. Each week he interacts with colleagues from state universities and development alliances and sits on boards for innovation development within South Carolina.
"We also interact closely with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, and work with the city to develop infrastructure and provide connectivity between partners," Lanier says. "We try to match industry and corporate life science companies with expertise on campus, and provide access to core facilities and advanced technology they may not have access to otherwise."
That's good news to South Carolina's nearly 600 life science companies, which employ more than 13,000 people statewide. More than 35 medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers and 50 research laboratories and development companies are in Charleston alone.
SCBIO notes that the average wage for a life sciences worker in the state is more than $53,000. Researchers in the state have earned 357 life science patents since 2005.
In 2011, Florida-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. announced plans to build new operations in Lexington County. The $313 million investment will create 707 jobs upon opening.
"The decision to expand into South Carolina was based on several reasons, which included insurance concerns, need for geographic diversity of operations, competitive marketplace and state incentives," says Lou Kennedy, CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals.
Health-care giant Roche Pharmaceuticals also calls South Carolina home. The Swiss company operates Roche Carolina Inc., a strategic process development and manufacturing facility in Florence.
The company completed a $60 million expansion at that facility in 2009. The company has cited available land, access to rail, proximity to the Port of Charleston, location near major interstates, and an available and trainable workforce as among the advantages of its location.
The Florence region has attracted other life sciences-related investment. IRIX Pharmaceuticals, a contract research and manufacturing organization (CRMO), counts some 150 pharmaceutical and biotech companies among its clients. The company, which engages in the generation of process technology for new and existing drugs, and the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients, has 33 Ph.D. scientists among its staff of 150.
Not far from IRIX, General Electric Healthcare manufactures a range of magnetic resonance imaging equipment used by health-care providers around the world.
Greenville serves as U.S. headquarters for U.K.-based Lab 21, a global provider of personalized medical diagnostic services. The company discovered South Carolina after purchasing a molecular diagnostics start-up from life sciences entrepreneur Michael Bolick in 2009.
Today, Bolick oversees the company's 10,000-square-foot lab in downtown Greenville. He says South Carolina's partnerships, including relationships with biomeds and universities, helped entice the British lab leader.
"We're not in a commodity market, so the more successful our peers are the more successful we all will be," says Bolick, who expects to add manufacturing to Lab21's Greenville operation. "It should be a really exciting time in South Carolina over the next few years."