SCbio’s annual conference held in Charleston recently celebrated the exponential growth of South Carolina’s life sciences industry, while highlighting efforts to develop new talent that fulfills the conference’s theme “Tomorrow Starts Here.”
“We want to make sure South Carolina is one of the best places in the world to conduct science … and make sure the next cures and breakthrough therapies for tomorrow start here,” Chappell said.
The growth signals a new era for South Carolina as a global leader in life sciences. The state’s ecosystem has grown by 42% in the past five years, announced James Chappell, SCbio president and chief executive officer.
Life sciences is the fastest growing segment of the state’s economy and twice as fast as any other southeast state. Nearly 1,000 life sciences companies are within 42 of the state’s 46 counties. The industry and its more than 87,000 employees earning an average of $88,000 annually contributes more than $25 billion to the state’s economy.
Entrepreneurship is flourishing across the state, driven by innovation within the state’s colleges and universities. Those include Medical University of South Carolina, which leads the state in funding from the National Institutes of Health; Clemson and its personalized medicines initiatives; and the University of South Carolina, which is developing a new health sciences campus in Columbia. Not only are new companies spinning out of academia, established companies are electing to set up a presence in the microhubs of Greenville, Charleston and Columbia.
Developing the next generation of life sciences talent
As the number of life sciences companies grows in South Carolina, so too does the need for talent. Universities and community colleges offer multiple training programs, including the SCbio manufacturing certificate program that has already graduated five cohorts, providing trained talent to the state’s companies.
“The amount of jobs we are adding is truly remarkable,” Chappell said at the conference. “Students are realizing they don’t have to go to the Research Triangle Park, Boston or California to get a fantastic job.”
However, more work can be done to improve the number of women and minority employees in the industry. Chappell noted SCbio is working with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities to develop a potential pipeline of talent through paid internships with member companies.
Chappell called on member companies to combine their efforts and create new opportunities for women and minorities. He urged attendees to support pilot programs that will provide these necessary pathways and make South Carolina’s life sciences industry “the gold standard for workforce diversity.”
There are also efforts to highlight potential careers in the life sciences to high school and middle school students. One such effort is through the mobile Rad Lab game that allows students to learn what happens in a laboratory. Best of all, the game is geo-fixed, so students in South Carolina will see the names of companies that operate within the state.
Companies born in, and moving to, South Carolina
One of the state’s newest companies is Erchonia, which develops low-level laser therapies. The company moved its operations and staff from Florida to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Greenville. Erchonia’s leadership team touted the overall business environment for life sciences as a reason its move to South Carolina. The FDA has greenlit Erchonia’s lasers for multiple indications uses, including the treatment of pain and obesity.
Other companies leading the innovation charge in South Carolina include oncology-focused Kiyatec, which is using 3D cell culture technology to determine which drugs work best in individual cancer patients. DeGen Medical, based in Florence and spun out of Clemson, is the only spine-focused medical device company in the state, developing implants and intuitively designed instrumentation to treat complex spinal disease. Fellow Clemson spinout Elastrin Therapeutics is developing a platform that reverses hardened and damaged arteries and tissue by targeting the elastic fiber to make them more supple.
Beyond startups and early-stage companies, South Carolina is also home to large companies such as GE Healthcare in Florence. The world’s largest MRI systems manufacturing facility, GE’s R&D team is developing next-generation approaches to imaging technology.
Each of these companies, along with the hundreds of others that form the ecosystem, contribute to South Carolina’s significant life sciences growth as a global leader in life sciences.