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MUSC: An Emerging Hotbed of Innovation

Innovation is booming in South Carolina

The Medical University of South Carolina is a foundational cornerstone of the Palmetto State’s flourishing life sciences ecosystem. The Charleston university is a hotbed of scientific research and innovation that is changing treatment models for multiple diseases, including oncology.

With significant funding from the National Institutes of Health, multiple startup spinouts, and a healthy portfolio of intellectual property, SCbio Chief Executive Officer James Chappell said MUSC is one of the state’s best kept secrets. Chappell said the school is churning out innovation across multiple life science sectors.

Innovation is more than a buzzword at MUSC—it is part of the fabric of life at the school, explained Jesse Goodwin, the university’s chief innovation officer. It’s not only in the school’s mission statement, she said, but a value that created a strong university culture and serves as a measuring stick for the school’s success.

Within the past five years, more than 50 active companies have spun out of MUSC. While many are still in a nascent stage, the heads of these companies are finding their own pathways toward maturation. Their growth, funding received and jobs created are all ways to help measure innovation, Goodwin said.

Among those startup companies is Gruthan Biosciences, which is developing a novel class of cholesterol-lowering drugs and is led by Stephen Duncan, the SmartState Chair in Regenerative Medicine and chairman of the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology at MUSC. Gruthan Biosciences is developing new therapies for patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, a disease that causes high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). While there are commercial treatments for this disease, Gruthan is developing a therapy that Duncan hopes will have less toxicity than those on the market.

Gruthan, which is Scottish Gaelic for liver, was established to leverage potential funding mechanisms that academia couldn’t, Duncan said.

More startups could soon join Gruthan as a spinout of MUSC. In 2022, there were 127 different innovative projects pitched at MUSC covering a wide range of new approaches. Goodwin said the number of different pitches highlights the culture of innovation built at the school.

“All of this makes MUSC better. Innovation builds culture, whether it’s something small, or the next big thing. We take a broad look at innovation because of that. We lean into it, you never know where innovation will come from,” Goodwin said.

At MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in South Carolina, significant research in treatment pathways, such as stem cells, is ongoing.

“The research coming out of there is incredible,” Goodwin said.

She noted that researchers hold multiple patents for potential approaches to treating cancer. Those patents have built a pipeline of intellectual property, leading to multiple companies being formed around that IP.

While innovation is critical to MUSC, Goodwin noted it does not happen in a vacuum. It’s a team sport, she said, not only among the academics at MUSC but across the South Carolina ecosystem. Goodwin pointed to the work conducted by SCbio that has led to significant growth across the state. At the SCbio 2023 conference, she said it’s easy to find collaborators who can support that journey into innovation.

Goodwin predicts that level of support will increase and, over time, she hopes for new opportunities for home-grown companies. She envisions a pool of resources that can help South Carolina startups prepare for growth through venture capital investment. Goodwin also expressed her hope for an incubator space in Charleston that will provide lab space and a collaborative environment for startups.

These South Carolina life science insights are authored by life sciences writer @Alex Keown, and provided by Inspire Agency and SCbio. 

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Tamia Sumpter

Tamia is a driven senior undergraduate Bioengineering student currently enrolled at Clemson University. With a strong foundation in her field, she has honed her skills through hands-on experience in research and development at Eli Lilly & Company. During her time in the ADME department, Tamia contributed significantly by working on siRNAs and their applications in finding In Vitro-In Vivo Correlation (IVIVC). Looking ahead, Tamia has set her sights on a promising career in law. She aspires to specialize in Intellectual Property Law, with a particular focus on serving as in-house counsel for leading medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Her enthusiasm for this role is palpable as she prepares to embark on her legal journey! She is also a proud member of the Omicron Phi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., PEER Mentor for Clemson PEER/WiSE, and currently serves as the President of Clemson Bioengineering Organization (CBO). With her unique blend of scientific knowledge and legal interests, Tamia is poised to make a meaningful impact in the healthcare and life sciences industries.