SCBIO takes aim at growing the presence of women in the life sciences industry see more
While COVID-19 brought the life sciences industry squarely into the world’s spotlight, the industry has been growing rapidly around the globe — and here in South Carolina — for quite some time. From gene editing and stem cell research to health data analytics and telemedicine, amazing advances in next generation pharmaceuticals and vaccines, medical devices, diagnostics, digital health, bio-agriculture and more are reshaping our world, while also saving and improving lives.
Life sciences in South Carolina are on a growth spurt accelerated by the pandemic. The number of firms in the industry has doubled since 2017, making it the fastest-growing industry sector in the state. The Moore School of Business estimated its annual economic impact at $12 billion and over 43,000 employees — even before COVID’s surge of growth.
To fully realize the opportunity that life sciences represent for South Carolina, the Board of Directors of SCBIO have placed a priority on increasing diversity and inclusion in the industry here at home — with action replacing perfunctory policies. Those efforts are bearing fruit.
As the official life sciences industry organization for South Carolina, SCBIO has implemented a range of commitments, actions, and programs to encourage advancement for individual women and minorities, cultivate the next generations of female leaders, and strengthen and deepen the bench of talented women workers and leaders in organizations statewide.
Among SCBIO’s numerous initiatives are:
Leading by Example – Besides my role as Interim CEO, women comprise some 25% of SCBIO’s board of directors today, which is led by a female Board Chairman, Lou Kennedy, CEO and Founder of Nephron Pharmaceuticals. The Board has also launched a new Life Sciences Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council to support leadership development of women and minorities. The 2021-2022 SCBIO Strategic Plan for SC Life Sciences has an entire section dedicated to encouraging expanded women and minority participation in the industry.
Relationship Building – Lt. Governor Pamela Evette, Chief External Affairs Officer for MUSC Caroline Brown, and Vikor Scientific’s Partner & Co-Founder Shea Harrelson are a few of many visible leaders actively encouraging young women to expand relationships across life sciences. This network of women leaders is deep and growing, consisting of female leaders in education, manufacturing, logistics, research, medicine, government, economic development and more who reach out to support each other’s development, share ideas, problem solve and encourage skill growth.
Supporting Career Choice for Young Women – Life science jobs are not just for M.D.s and Ph.Ds, but for technical college graduates, engineers, and biology and chemistry majors as well. With an average life sciences position paying $79,000 here, SCBIO is promoting the industry as a career path to students, guidance counselors and parents at the K-12 and two- and four-year college levels. It is also developing an industry-advocated curriculum for technical colleges covering industry prescribed manufacturing processes, safety and technical protocols, soft skills and more. A recent statewide Young Women in Life Sciences ZOOM drew over 500 high school attendees from dozens of schools across the state to learn about careers in life sciences.
Connecting Young Women – Via events and community outreach such as Virtual Meetups for women in the industry and a Women in Life Sciences Visit with our Lt. Governor, SCBIO is connecting women at all levels of life sciences organizations across the state to share information on career paths, leading teams, personal development, handling difficult conversations, encouraging innovation and more to help them connect and learn together — and encourage others they know to consider the industry as a career path.
Establishing New Partnerships – New partnerships such as serving as Presenting Sponsor of Furman University’s Women’s Leadership Institute and providing scholarships at the BMW-SYNNEX 2021 Women’s Executive Luncheon create new opportunities to have life sciences as a visible part of the discussion.
Now more than ever, women in life sciences are leading the way to the industry’s rapid growth and expansion in South Carolina… and around the world. Here at home, SCBIO is working to inspire women of all ages to choose, grow and thrive in this dynamic industry by relying on, inspiring and supporting each other to attain even greater levels of success.
The future is bright and getting even brighter as more women step up to lead the way to a brighter tomorrow.
Two life sciences companies make list for SCRA support see more
Advent Innovations, LLC and DPX Technologies, LLC have been accepted as South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) Member Companies and awarded grant funding. Parimer Scientific, LLC and Prewrite, Inc. have been accepted as Member Companies. As Member Companies, they will receive coaching, access to experts in SCRA’s Resource Partner Network, eligibility to apply for grant funding, and the potential to be considered for an investment from SCRA’s affiliate, SC Launch, Inc.
Advent Innovations Limited Company has been accepted as an SCRA Member Company and awarded a $50,000 Federal Matching Grant. The University of South Carolina-affiliated startup provides services in modeling, analysis, design, and product development using cutting-edge research with novel sensors, big data analytics, and other smart technology such as robotics. Their customers include private corporations and government entities in aerospace, automotive, civil infrastructure, and energy.
DPX Technologies, LLC has been accepted as an SCRA Member Company and awarded a $50,000 Federal Matching Grant. The University of South Carolina-affiliated company manufactures sample lab preparation products and develops custom methods for a diverse client base. Their proprietary and patented INTip™ technologies provide efficient, automated solutions for laboratories that are easy to customize and implement with any workflow or method.
Parimer Scientific, LLC has been accepted as an SCRA Member Company. The Easley-based company provides turn-key laboratory services at competitive rates to biotech and pharmaceutical companies with no upfront capital or long-term commitment needed. In 2020 alone, more than 10,000 units of pharmaceutical products were made at Parimer and shipped directly to the end-users at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes.
Prewrite, Inc. has been accepted as an SCRA Member Company. The Greenville-based startup offers a story development platform for writers, producers, and content creators of all types. Their powerful tool ensures the writer is using good story fundamentals. Stories of any complexity are easily built, piece-by-piece. Originally designed for screenplays, Prewrite is used around the world by professionals and amateurs alike.
SCRA welcomes these new Member Companies!
Grant funding is made possible, in part, by Industry Partnership Fund (IPF) contributions that fuel the state’s innovation economy. Contributors to the IPF receive a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit, making it an easy and effective way to help one of the fastest growing segments of the South Carolina economy. Grant funding for Member Companies creates a direct, positive economic effect and job creation.
Chartered in 1983 by the State of South Carolina as a public, nonprofit corporation, South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) fuels South Carolina’s innovation economy through the impact of its four programs. SC Academic Innovations provides funding and support to advance translational research and accelerate the growth of university-based startups. SC Facilities offers high-quality laboratory and administrative workspaces for technology-based startups and academic institutions. SC Industry Solutions facilitates and funds partnerships between and among startups, industry, and academia. SC Launch mentors and funds technology-based startups that may also receive investments from SCRA’s investment affiliate, SC Launch, Inc.
Life sciences expands career opportunities for SC graduates see more
COVID caused pain and heartache and death across the world and here in the Lowcountry, but it also revealed some bright spots. One of those is the life sciences industry, which was responsible for diagnosing COVID, providing responses, and ultimately developing effective vaccines.
Coincidentally, the life sciences industry in South Carolina is itself on a growth spurt that was accelerated by the pandemic. The number of firms in the industry had doubled in the last four years, making it the fastest-growing industry sector in the state. The Darla Moore School of Business estimated its annual economic impact at $12 billion before the most recent spike.
Life sciences produce next-generation pharmaceuticals and vaccines; advanced medical devices, diagnostics, and testing; digital health; bioscience distribution; bio-agriculture and biomaterials; and biological solutions for advanced manufacturing.
Life sciences also encompass two areas of focus for the Lowcountry Graduate Center – advanced manufacturing and healthcare management. While the connection with healthcare is obvious, many people don’t realize that life science research and advanced manufacturing work symbiotically. Many life science innovations, like medical devices, require advanced manufacturing to produce, while life science innovations can power the process of advanced manufacturing itself.
Career Opportunities in Life Sciences
That means jobs, and not just for M.D.s and Ph.D.’s, but for technical college graduates and university biology and chemistry majors as well. The average life sciences position pays $79,000, according to the official state affiliate of the U.S. Biotechnology Innovation Organization, also referred to as SCBIO, the nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the life sciences industry in S.C. Because workforce development is the primary challenge facing the industry, SCBIO is engaged in an initiative to promote the industry as a career path for students, guidance counselors, and parents at the K-12 level and in two- and four-year college.
Indeed, SCBIO is in the process of developing an industry-advocated life sciences curriculum for technical colleges that can prepare graduates for jobs in the field. Courses would cover manufacturing processes; safety and technical protocols like measurements and ISO standards; soft skills required for all workplaces; and the connections between the various life science components and the life-saving innovations they support.
“We want to get to students even sooner so we’re partnering with organizations that are already in schools to add more of the ‘S’ in STEM,” said Erin Ford, interim CEO at SCBIO. “If someone takes a course at Trident Tech, they can get a job paying $50,000 or more with health insurance while working on a product that helps people live better lives.”
The vector of life science development is different depending on the area of the state, with the Lowcountry showing strength in biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing, says Ford.
Life Science Companies Need Space to Grow
Besides workforce development, the next big challenge constraining growth is space. Lab space at the new WestEdge development in downtown Charleston was fully subscribed when it opened and now developers are seeking new space. Clean labs are more complex and costly to retrofit and build than ordinary office or warehouse space.
Nonetheless, the firms keep coming – or starting – and the state has gotten behind the industry. As a critical step, it authorized and funded SCBIO as the state’s lead life sciences industry economic development organization.
Life science provides more than just more job growth: it provides diversification of an economy that 30 years ago relied heavily on a Navy base that packed up and left. Life sciences are more recession-resistant than automotive and aeronautics, two areas of manufacturing strength in the Lowcountry that respond to retail market demand. People never cease needing health innovations.
Recognizing that, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) and South Carolina Research Authority have backed the industry. CRDA was the first development authority in the state to build map out a strategic plan to attract and retain life science businesses.
Headwinds for Life Sciences in South Carolina
Sam Konduros of KOR Medical, a clinical cannabis firm launched by the Charleston-based diagnostic and testing company Vikor Scientific, says South Carolina and SCBIO have created a business climate conducive to the industry, and the health care and advanced manufacturing infrastructure have added tailwinds to its development. Citing Vikor’s growth from 45 employees to 450 during COVID, he says recruiting a talented workforce has not been a significant challenge so far. He notes the usual Charleston quality-of-life benefits – weather, beaches, history, and food, in addition to the growing vibrancy of the industry – as recruiting tools have contributed to the success.
Ford and Konduros see possible headwinds elsewhere for the industry. Roadways and other transportation infrastructure could use improvement, and housing availability and affordability are statewide issues. For example, the state’s franchise tax, now eliminated by 36 states, penalizes early-stage companies successfully raising venture capital before going to market. In an industry that often spends millions to earn FDA approval prior to commercialization, the tax is a burden, they say.
Xcelerate, Inc. Signs Definitive Memorandum of Understanding with HS Pharmaceuticals, LLC of South CarolinaGreenville company enters MOU with global player see more
Xcelerate, Inc. (OTC pink sheets: "XCRT") today announced that it has signed a Definitive Memorandum of Understanding with HS Pharmaceuticals, LLC of Greenville, SC defining the terms under which Xcelerate, Inc. will acquire 100% of the membership interests in HS Pharmaceuticals, LLC as well as a 51% interest in HS Cosmetics, Inc.
The DMOU calls for the drafting and signing of an Acquisition Agreement with a pre-determined valuation of HS Pharmaceuticals as well as the raising of capital sufficient to progress the development of HS Pharmaceuticals IP and to fulfill the expansion of the current HS Cosmetics marketing plan launched in April of 2021.
"Since the announcement of a letter of intent with HS Pharmaceuticals in May, the teams at Xcelerate and HS have been working to define the terms that have resulted in this DMOU and were able to agreement with the assistance of our advisors at Network1 Financial who will be working with us going forward in our capital raising efforts" said Michael O'Shea, Xcelerate CEO."
"Xcelerate remains focused on joining early-stage medical technology companies in a setting of controlled clinical care where these new developments can be trialed, tested and applied," said O'Shea.
For more information, please visit www.xcelerate.global.
Emergency room expansion now underway see more
Compliments of GSA Business Report
Prisma Health this week began the official construction phase of a $13 million expansion for its emergency department at Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca.
The expansion will more than double the space available to treat patients from 8,400 square feet to 21,500 square feet, according to a news release.
“With this expansion, we will be able to provide for increased patient volumes, allow for upgraded equipment and technology while caring for patients in a healing and comfortable environment,” Hunter Kome, Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital CEO, said in the news release. “This expansion will give us the capacity to care for this community for years to come.”
Prisma Health and community members celebrated with a groundbreaking ceremony, with construction beginning right away and a schedule that calls for completion in 2023. The work will include 25 new individual treatment rooms, advanced technology and equipment and more space for doctors and nurses, according to the release.
“This would not be possible without support from our local businesses and residents,” Cortni Nations, manager of the Oconee Memorial Hospital Foundation, said in the release. “Members of our community have come together to raise more than $700,000 toward our million-dollar goal. We are grateful for the teamwork that has made tremendous progress on a big goal.”
Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital typically cares for about 40,000 patients in its emergency department area each year and the expansion will provide capacity to see up to 55,000 patients annually, the release said.
With 18 hospitals and more than 300 physician practice sites, not-for-profit Prisma Health is the largest health care system in South Carolina.
Development is the largest agriculture-based Opportunity Zone project in the nation see more
Environmental permitting is underway for the Agriculture-Technology Campus in Hampton County, with a goal of starting operations at the indoor farming supersite by the end of next year.
The $314 million development is being billed as the largest agriculture-based Opportunity Zone project in the nation. Its announcement last September at the Southern Carolina Industrial Campus off Interstate 95 in Early Branch attracted hundreds of boosters, including the nation’s top farm official at the time in Sonny Perdue — the agriculture chief under former President Donald Trump.
Thing have been relatively quiet since then, but plenty of work has been taking place behind the scenes, said Kay Maxwell, marketing manager for the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance.
She said a group of precision farming specialists from the Netherlands spent months conducting studies at the industrial park to determine how greenhouses there can get the maximum benefit from sunlight, humidity and other weather conditions. The Netherlands is the world’s second-leading agricultural exporter, behind the United States, and has pioneered indoor growing techniques that use little water or soil and no pesticides.
More traditional studies — such as wetlands permitting and geotechnical engineering — are now taking place, Maxwell said. The alliance also is marketing the project to companies interested in either growing crops at the property or using an onsite packaging and distribution center to deliver South Carolina-grown products to store shelves.
“We have talked to companies as far as Europe and Asia, as well as a lot of domestic companies, that are very interested in South Carolina because of this project,” Maxwell said. “There are a lot of different avenues in which other companies can be involved.”
While the Ag-Tech Campus has five years to qualify for state and local tax credits, Maxwell said she expects some operations will begin much sooner.
The project also qualifies for a $7 million rural infrastructure grant from the state that would pass through Hampton County Council, though none of the funds have been released to date, according to the S.C. Commerce Department.
The Ag-Tech Campus is a partnership between Columbia-based finance group GEM Opportunity Fund and a trio of food and packaging firms that will grow produce in environmentally controlled greenhouses at the 1,000-acre site.
Zeb Portanova, chief executive of GEM, said in a March 30 interview with Fundviews Podcast that he had recently submitted a financing package for the project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency is providing grants for Opportunity Zone projects, which are also eligible for federal tax breaks and fall under a program designed to encourage investment in low-income urban and rural communities.
Portanova has said the Ag-Tech Campus will create roughly 1,500 jobs by 2025. Another GEM project — a $30 million hemp growing and processing facility — will be nearby. Maxwell said greenhouses are already being constructed for the latter project, which is expected to create 107 jobs, and start operations by the end of this year.
More than $19 million in grants to several key connected health projects see more
The federal government is investing more than $19 million in key telehealth initiatives, including the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) and Telehealth Centers of Excellence (COE) program.
Some 36 awards are being distributed by the Health and Human Services Department through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth to some of the nation’s highest-profile connected health projects. The investments are aimed at strengthening programs and supporting innovation in areas that have seen record adoption and growth during the pandemic.
“Telehealth expands access to care and is a vital tool for improving health equity by providing timely clinical assessment and treatment for our most vulnerable populations,” HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa said in a press release issued this morning. “This funding will help drive the innovation necessary to build clinical networks, educational opportunities, and trusted resources to further advance telehealth.”
The TRC consortium, which consists of 12 regional and two national centers, is getting $4.55 million – or $325,000 per site - to bolster and expand their efforts. The TRCs, which provide a wide range of guidance and resources, have seen heavy traffic over the past year and a half as healthcare providers and other organizations have adopted telehealth to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
The Telehealth COE program, meanwhile, is getting $6.5 million to expand services and strategies aimed at improving access and outcomes in underserved parts of the country that deal with high chronic care needs and poverty, and to serve as incubators for new telehealth ideas. Located in academic medical centers, COEs are seen as national models for evidence-based programs and strategies that promote best practices.
In 2017, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) were designated Telehealth Centers of Excellence. The award is being split between the two programs.
The Evidence-Based Direct-to-Consumer Telehealth Network Program (EB-TNP) is getting roughly $3.8 million to bolster its DTC telehealth efforts. Those awards are being issued to 11 organizations: HealthHIE Georgia, Cornerstone Whole Healthcare in Idaho, Drake University in Iowa, the University of Kansas Medical Center Research Institute, Baptist Health Foundation Corbin in Kentucky, MaineHealth, UMMC, Lester E. Cox Medical University in Missouri, the Ben Archer Health Center in New Mexico, East Carolina University in North Carolina and Texas A&M University.
Finally, the Telehealth Technology-Enabled Learning Program (TTELP) is getting about $4.28 million to “help specialists at academic medical centers provide training and support to primary care providers in rural, frontier, and other underserved areas to help treat patients with complex conditions ranging from long COVID to substance use disorders in their communities.”
Those awards are going to nine organizations: Community Health Center in Connecticut, the American Academy of Pediatrics in Illinois, the University of Kansas Medical Center Research Institute, Medical Care Development in Maine, the JSI Research and Training Institute in Massachusetts, President and Fellows of Harvard College in Massachusetts, the University of New Mexico, Oregon Health & Science University and the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust.
Charles River Labs quietly continues its critical work to save lives see more
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — It’s one of the stranger, lesser-known aspects of U.S. health care — the striking, milky-blue blood of horseshoe crabs is a critical component of tests to ensure injectable medications such as coronavirus vaccines aren’t contaminated.
To obtain it, harvesters bring many thousands of the creatures to laboratories to be bled each year, and then return them to the sea — a practice that has drawn criticism from conservationists because some don’t survive the process.
The blood, which is blue due to its copper content, is coveted for proteins used to create the LAL test, a process used to screen medical products for bacteria. Synthetic alternatives aren’t widely accepted by the health care industry and haven’t been approved federally, leaving the crabs as the only domestic source of this key ingredient.
Many of these crabs are harvested along the coast of South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster promoted the niche industry as key to the development of a domestic medical supply chain, while also noting that environmental concerns should be explored.
“We don’t want to have to depend on foreign countries for a lot of reasons, including national security, so it’s good to see this company thriving in the United States,” McMaster told The Associated Press. He spoke this month during a visit to Charles River Laboratories at its Charleston facilities, to which AP was granted rare access. “We want to do everything we can to onshore all of these critical operations.”
Horseshoe crabs — aquatic arthropods shaped like helmets with long tails — are more akin to scorpions than crabs, and older than dinosaurs. They’ve been scurrying along the brackish floors of coastal waters for hundreds of millions of years. Their eggs are considered a primary fat source for more than a dozen species of migratory shore birds, according to South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources.
Their value to avoiding infection emerged after scientists researching their immune response injected bacteria into horseshoe crabs in the 1950s. They ultimately developed the LAL test, and the technique has been used since the 1970s to keep medical materials and supplies free of bacteria.
Their biomedical use has been on the rise, with 464,482 crabs brought to biomedical facilities in 2018, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
In South Carolina, that’s done only by Charles River, a Massachusetts-based company that tests 55% of the world’s injectables and medical devices — like IV bags, dialysis solutions and even surgical cleaning wipes, according to company officials.
“We are almost the last line of defense before these drugs leave the manufacturing area and make it to a patient,” senior vice president Foster Jordan told McMaster. “If it touches your blood, it’s been tested by LAL. And, more than likely, it’s been tested by us.”
Charles River employs local fishermen to harvest the crabs by hand, a process governed by wildlife officials that can only happen during a small annual window, when the creatures come ashore to spawn.
Contractors bring them to the company’s bleeding facilities, then return them to the waters from which they came. During a year, Jordan said his harvesters can bring in 100,000 to 150,000 horseshoe crabs, and still can’t satisfy the growing demand.
“We need more, though,” Jordan told McMaster, adding that his company is working with the state to open up more harvesting areas. “The population’s steady. ... We need access to more beaches, to get more crabs.”
The practice is not without its critics, some of whom have argued that bleeding the crabs and hauling them back and forth is harmful. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10% to 15% of harvested crabs die during the process.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the species overall as “vulnerable,” noting decreasing numbers as of a 2016 assessment. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission listed 2019 stock as “good” in the Southeast, but “poor” in areas around New York.
Conservationists sued last year, accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of shirking its duty to protect areas including South Carolina’s Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge by allowing horseshoe crab harvesting. They argued that taking out the crabs affects other species in the protected area. A federal judge temporarily halted the harvest, but was reversed following Charles River’s appeal.
The environmental groups asked to withdraw their complaint this month after federal officials imposed a permitting process for any commercial activity in the refuge, including horseshoe harvesting, beginning Aug. 15. Even if such permits are denied, Jordan told McMaster that only 20% of its harvest came from the refuge, with most coming from further down the South Carolina coast.
There is a synthetic alternative to the horseshoe crab blood, but it hasn’t been widely accepted in the U.S., and meanwhile, Charles River’s international competitors are making synthetics and also pressing for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, which Jordan said could hamper domestic efforts like his own.
“My mission is to make sure that any competitor that comes into the United States, from China or any of these other producers, has to go through the same regulatory process that we had to go through, to make sure that it’s safe,” Jordan said. “If all these synthetics start coming in from other countries, we’re going to lose the protection that we’ve had for all these years, and the safety, and the control of the drug supply.”
“We want to have as much stuff made here as we can,” McMaster said in response.
As for the environmental concerns, the governor said maintaining a healthy balance between scientific demands and the state’s ecosystems, which bolster a significant portion of South Carolina’s tourism economy, is paramount.
“It’s like a house of cards. You pull out one part, and the rest of it will fall,” McMaster said. “So I think we have to be very careful, and be sure that any company, any business, any activity, whether it’s commercial or otherwise, meets whatever requirements are there to protect the species — birds, horseshoe crabs, any sort of life.”
Exciting new development from MUSC co-founded technology see more
SpheroFill, a company co-founded by Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) researcher William Hill, Ph.D., is helping to convert swords into plowshares with more than a quarter million dollars in funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Technology Transfer grant. Hill is a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at MUSC and a research scientist at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.
Hill and SpheroFill are developing microsphere technology to create a unique oral drug delivery platform that will allow for protected, controlled release of drugs over time. The microsphere technology was originally created for strategic purposes by the Department of Energy at the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and then converted for civilian purposes by the Applied Research Center (ARC) in Aiken, South Carolina.
The other co-founders of SpheroFill are George Wicks, Ph.D., of ARC, and ENT-otolaryngologist Paul Weinberger, M.D. Wicks co-invented the microsphere technology while at the SRNL. Together with MUSC and ARC, the three inventors have submitted a patent on the oral and other drug delivery approaches.
Hill, who serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief scientific officer, is excited about the collaboration between SpheroFill, MUSC and ARC.
“The Applied Research Center is a nonprofit research and development organization established to transfer technology from the SRNL and academic institutions and to assist start-up companies where possible,” explained Hill. “It is the value of the taxpayers’ investment being amplified into novel uses that can create new jobs and expand the economy of South Carolina. ARC’s goal is to build a technology base in Aiken County and the state. Importantly, ARC has been a key initial investor for us.”
The microspheres are hollow spheres with a large cargo capacity contained by a porous silica glass outer shell. Complex nanoscale channels connect the interior cargos with the outside world.
“A microsphere is about a third the diameter of a human hair,” said Hill. “You can actually load the microspheres with different cargos, drugs in this case, and then control the release rate of materials coming out of them.”
Once in the body, the microspheres will release the drug as the outer coating degrades and the nanopores open. The technology could help pharmaceutical companies overcome a serious hurdle in developing oral drugs. Drugs taken by mouth often break down in the harsh environment of the gastrointestinal system.
“The pharmaceutical industry has a large number of drugs that are difficult to deliver orally – either because they don't dissolve very well in the aqueous system that we have in our gastrointestinal tract, or because they are very reactive and will be broken down very quickly by enzymes there,” said Hill.
By encasing the drugs, the microspheres protect them from this harsh environment and enable them to reach their target locations, where they release their contents. As a result, less drug is wasted, which is a savings for both pharmaceutical companies and consumers. This will be particularly important with expensive drugs and newer sensitive biological drugs.
The technology not only allows more efficient delivery of existing oral drugs, but it also makes possible the oral delivery of new types of drugs.
“There is also an ability to deliver drugs in ways that they never could have been delivered before, such as in gaseous form” said Hill. “We're trying to develop new ways to deliver agents that aren't really drugs now because they're just too difficult to use as drugs.”
Hill is excited by the possibilities. With the technology, he speculates that insulin could be delivered orally instead of injected under the skin. Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, which typically affect the entire body, could be released directly into a tumor, helping to spare healthy tissue.
The technology could also help patients with better medication compliance. Many drugs, such as antibiotics, must be taken daily over several days. When patients begin feeling better, they may discontinue taking the medication prematurely, leading to drug resistance and other problems.
“SpheroFill allows patients to have effective drug dosing over extended time, so the patient only has to take the drug once or possibly twice,” said Hill.
At MUSC, Hill’s research team is working on testing different polymers that can serve as coatings for the microspheres, with the aim of having different drug-release rates with different coatings, ranging from days to months.
“The cool thing is that you can have microspheres with different thicknesses of coatings or entirely different coatings, which will release materials at different rates,” said Hill. “And we can mix them together to have overlapping or sequential releases of the same or different drugs for an extended period of time,” said Hill.
The team is working on controlling drug release by measuring release rates for different coatings. Once Hill and his team complete this step, they will next study how well the microspheres with the different coatings work as a drug-delivery platform, first in animals and then in humans.
Hill believes that the support from the NSF is an important milestone for Spherofill and is grateful to the MUSC Foundation for Research Development for its help with the application.
“It’s exciting to get this stamp of approval from the NSF,” said Hill. This hard-to-acquire support says that it believes the technology and the company are worth the investment to help with technical development and assistance through its strong commercialization infrastructure. This will also help to open doors for us to partners and customers.”
In addition to improving drug delivery, SpheroFill and its partners also hope to support the South Carolina economy by bringing research and development, high-tech and pharmaceutical jobs to Charleston, Aiken and other areas of the state.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson see that economic potential.
“The funding will allow SpheroFill to create advancements in the medical field, and I appreciate NSF working to help turn this into a reality,” said Graham.
Wilson, too, acknowledged the NSF’s generous funding of SpheroFill’s valuable collaboration.
“The synergy between SpheroFill, the Applied Research Center and the Savannah River National Laboratory has allowed this research to gain momentum, providing transformative opportunities in medical treatments,” said Wilson. “I am grateful that NSF recognized and rewarded the talent here in our community.”
About the Medical University of South Carolina
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is home to the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center, with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. MUSC brought in more than $271 million in biomedical research funds in fiscal year 2020, continuing to lead the state in obtaining National Institutes of Health funding, with more than $129.9 million. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 2,000 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eleven hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Fairfield, Florence, Kershaw, Lancaster and Richland counties. In 2021, for the seventh consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.
MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $4.6 billion. The more than 20,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.
New leader for entrepreneurial organization to start in September see more
Entrepreneur Eric Weissmann has been named the new Executive Director of NEXT, an entrepreneur support organization in Greenville, SC that has impacted more than 120 companies, who in turn have raised $28 million in capital. NEXT provides connections to mentoring, capital, facilities, and access to a peer community of aspiring founders across the region.
Weissmann was part of the founding team at Cintrifuse, a similar ecosystem catalyst, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he serves as Vice President of External Relations. Weissmann launched “StartupCincy,” an initiative that started as a simple social media hashtag and bloomed into a full-fledged, connected community. He previously worked in the marketing and creative services industries. Weissmann has helped establish the Disney Cruise Line brand leading up to the maiden voyage of the Disney Magic.
“I’m excited by the opportunity and encouraged by the amount of collaboration I already see in the Greenville community,” said Weissmann. “We’re at a unique moment in time where cities across the country are fostering entrepreneurship by leveraging their unique strengths to attract talent and dollars with the goal of increasing economic development. Greenville’s got the raw materials to make a huge impact on the region and I’m ready to get to work!”
Find Great People led a nationwide, comprehensive search. The interview committee selected Weissmann because of his extensive experience developing innovation ecosystems, supporting entrepreneurs in securing venture capital, leading diversity and inclusion programs, and supporting ventures from concept to exit.
“Eric embodies the qualities we desired in the leader of NEXT: a proven leader with experience building world-class ecosystems for start-ups and developing innovative, collaborative teams and communities where entrepreneurs can thrive,” said Carlos Phillips, Greenville Chamber President/CEO.
NEXT was founded in 2006 and has three locations including NEXT Innovation, NEXT on Main and NEXT Manufacturing.
“As we look to the future, NEXT has a goal of tripling investment in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that we serve,” said Scott Millwood, Chair of NEXT. “Under Weissmann’s leadership, we are confident NEXT will have the strategic and visionary leadership needed to accomplish these goals.”
The City of Greenville is an investor in NEXT, as part of its Economic Development strategy to attract small and medium sized companies that provide high wage, knowledge-based jobs. The Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC) is also an active supporter.
“NEXT is the vehicle the city utilizes to support early-stage scalable businesses,” said Greenville City Manager John McDonough. “We ‘get’ entrepreneurs and the dreams that drive them. Hiring a founder who has successfully started companies, grown companies and marketed companies, to lead the NEXT organization showcases our commitment to becoming “the place” for brilliant minds to start and grow their business.”
Weissmann is expected to begin in September.
NEXT, launched as a production of the Greenville Chamber in 2006, is an entrepreneurial support organization that attracts and helps high-impact, knowledge-based companies grow by developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem and connecting entrepreneurs to it. NEXT currently supports over 120 knowledge-based companies in Upstate South Carolina. For more information, visit www.nextsc.org
Lecture hall in new facility to be named for donor see more
A lecture hall in the college’s new pharmacy facility will be named the Bobby Gene ‘63 and Barbara Harter Rippy Lecture Hall.
Noted Union, South Carolina, philanthropist Barbara Harter Rippy has made a $1 million commitment to the College of Pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). The donation will support the mission and vision of the college.
In recognition of this major gift, the college is naming the lecture hall in its new pharmacy facility the Bobby Gene ‘63 and Barbara Harter Rippy Lecture Hall. A virtual groundbreaking for the new facility was held in April.
“The Rippys exemplify the best characteristics of independent community pharmacy ownership,” said Philip Hall, Pharm.D., dean of the MUSC College of Pharmacy. “Trusted caregivers, community leaders, dedicated to customers, good businesspeople and great models for our students. We’re delighted the Rippy name will have such a prominent place at MUSC.”
For 34 years, the Rippys owned and operated Smith Drug Store on Main Street in Union. In 1959, Bobby Rippy enrolled at the MUSC College of Pharmacy while Barbara Rippy continued to work, supporting the family until her husband earned a pharmacy degree that would eventually enable them to buy Smith Drug Store in 1969.
The Rippys became community leaders and benefactors, supporting civic and church organizations as well as sponsoring a Dixie Youth baseball team for 44 years. They retired in 2004 and continued to be vibrant and active parts of Union civic life, participating in and supporting more than a half dozen organizations. Bobby Rippy passed away in 2012.
The Rippys have long been known for their generosity of spirit; they were giving back when they barely had anything to give. Barbara Rippy credits God first for her ability to give so generously. Not long after opening the pharmacy, when a customer had charged children’s prescriptions four times in a row, Bobby Rippy said, “As long as I live, and I’ve got any money, no child will go without their medication.” They stuck by that maxim, and when they closed, they were still owed $75,000.
“We didn’t miss one dime of that,” Barbara Rippy said. “When you’re good to people, they are good to you. After all the professors did for Bobby to help him become a pharmacist, I told Larry that I wanted to give the College of Pharmacy $1 million so that students for years to come would have the same opportunity to fulfill their dreams of becoming pharmacists as well,” she explained, recounting her conversation with Larry Craine, her longtime financial advisor.
The lecture hall named after the Rippys in the new pharmacy facility reflects that special bond between student and professors. The state-of-the-art lecture hall is dedicated for pharmacy instruction, making it a vital and highly visible site of shared experience for every MUSC pharmacy student and faculty member.
“Having a dedicated lecture hall for them to learn and interact is essential,” said Chris Wisniewski, Pharm.D., professor and nationally acclaimed expert in pharmacy education. “New space with new technology allows faculty to experiment in the educational realm and identify new ways to educate our students.”
Rhythmlink International honored as a Best Places to Work in South Carolina for tenth consecutive yearTen years in a row for life sciences firm Rhythmlink see more
For the tenth consecutive year Rhythmlink has been awarded a spot on the “Best Places to Work in South Carolina” list in the Small Employer category, honored by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. This year Rhythmlink placed 13 out 20 total companies in this category, earning a spot on a final list of the 81 most innovative and top-notch employers across the state.
“Rhythmlink takes pride in achieving this honor for the tenth consecutive year,” said Shawn Regan, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer for Rhythmlink International, LLC. “We could not achieve our mission of improving patient care or uphold our values and culture without the significant contribution of our employees, and this honor helps us know we remain on the right track for making that possible,” said Regan.
Companies from across the state entered the two-part survey process to determine the Best Places to Work in South Carolina. The first part consisted of evaluating each company’s workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems and demographics. The second part consisted of an employee survey to measure the employee experience. The combined scores determined the top companies and the final ranking. Several questions on the survey dealt with how Rhythmlink has responded to challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it has affected the workplace.
Joe Straczek, Chief Financial Officer for Rhythmlink, believes that despite the challenges, Rhythmlink employees remained focused and dedicated to their work. “As a health care company, our employees know the value of their work in our industry, and believe they have an opportunity to make a difference,” said Straczek. “One of the things that makes our culture special is a willingness and ability to adapt to changes and struggles, while always keeping the customer top of mind.”
Ranked companies were recognized at an annual reception and awards dinner at the Columbia Convention Center on August 4, 2021.
Rhythmlink International is a medical device manufacturer specializing in devices that help connect patients to machines to record or elicit physiologic information. Rhythmlink designs, manufactures, and distributes a variety of medical devices for intraoperative neuromonitoring, electroencephalography, evoked potentials, polysomnography, long-term epilepsy monitoring and critical care units. Founded by neurodiagnostic technologists and engineers in 2002, Rhythmlink enhances patient care worldwide by transforming medical device technology that links patients to equipment. Rhythmlink also offers custom packaging, custom products, private labeling, and contract manufacturing services.
Ford named to Icons list in Columbia, SC see more
Twenty-four community leaders, from a hospital CEO leading the charge against COVID-19 to a public servant helping fight homelessness, have been honored as 2021 Columbia Regional Business Report Icons & Phenoms.
For the third year, the Business Report is honoring a pair of groups making an impact on the area business scene: Icons, the respected pillars who have established standards of business and civic excellence; and Phenoms, the motivated go-getters who are getting things done in new and exciting ways.
Honorees represent industries ranging from finance and law to nonprofits and engineering and will be recognized at an Aug. 25 luncheon at the DoubleTree by Hilton Columbia. Tickets are still available, so come help celebrate your friends and colleagues. And don't forget to congratulate them online using the hashtag #crbriconsphenoms.
Award recipients, nominated by Business Report readers and selected by a panel of judges, will be recognized at an online event Aug. 5. A profile of each honoree will be published in the July 20 print edition of the Business Report.
The 2021 Columbia Regional Business Report Icons & Phenoms are:
- Tod Augsburger, president and CEO, Lexington Medical Center
- John Barnes, co-founder and CEO, Pendleton Street Business Advisors
- Linda Bell, S.C. state epidemiologist and director of DHEC's Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control
- Sara Fawcett, president and CEO, United Way of the Midlands
- Erin Ford, interim CEO, SCBIO
- Cheryl Holland, president of Abacus Planning Group
- Dominik Mjartan, president and CEO, Optus Bank
- Mary Louise Resch, director of Philanthropy, Central S.C. Habitat for Humanity
- Pat Smith, agency director, Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School
- Byron Snellgrove, city of Cayce director of public safety
- Joe Taylor, owner, Park and Washington
- Ram'on Wideman, owner/president and CEO of Anointed Business Solutions LLC
- Phill Blair, owner, The Whig/WECO Bottle & Biergarten
- Lyndey Bryant, business litigation attorney, Adams and Reese LLP
- Ryan Coleman, director of economic development for the city of Columbia
- Joseph Dickey, managing partner, Dickey Law Group
- Tracy Hegler, city manager, city of Cayce
- Ashley Hunter, CEO, MPA Strategies
- Amanda Loveday, COO, NP Strategy
- Shayla Merritt, senior marketing coordinator, SSOE | Stevens & Wilkinson
- Travis McNeal, executive director, Oliver Gospel Mission
- Katie Oliver, CFO, DartPoints LLC
- Josh Rabon, managing partner, Civil Engineering of Columbia
- Tommy Volz, Eastern U.S. sponsorship marketing manager, Wells Fargo
RiteDose growing capacity see more
The RiteDose Corp. is implementing engineering innovations to its Columbia production lines that the company says will increase production capacity by as much as 25%.
RiteDose, born from the inventors of Blow-Fill-Seal technology, is a leading BFS Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization. The innovations will allow the company to meet increasing demand for its products, which include sterile drugs for inhalation and ophthalmology, and to bring new product lines for pharmaceutical companies to market faster, according to a news release.
“Our engineers have made significant changes in our production methodology and processes that will allow us to increase production capacity by up to 200 million units per year — substantially beyond standard industry outputs,” RiteDose CEO Jody Chastain said in the release. “This latest innovation pushes our BFS capacity to more than 2 billion units annually.”
The innovations are part of a $20 million capital avoidance strategy that RiteDose said will create more flexibility in its production capacity and capability.
RiteDose has been a leading CDMO in the BFS arena since the late 1990s when the company, then known as Holopack International, received FDA approval to manufacture and distribute drug products. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company expanded to include a new 503B Outsourcing Facility to supply sterile injectable products to health care facilities nationwide.
“RiteDose has been an invaluable partner in developing robust manufacturing processes and successfully scaling up manufacturing to support our pipeline of innovative drugs,” Vijay Sabesan of pharmaceutical developer Theravance Biopharma said. “In addition to the extensive expertise in BFS manufacturing, we greatly value their flexibility and collaborative approach.”
BFS is an aseptic fill-finish technology that uses a low-density polyethene processed in a five-step operation. Medical-grade, molten plastic resin is extruded through a nozzle and blown with sterile air to form a tube called a parison, which is then blow-molded into a container shape. The containers are filled with a formulation and sealed, then processed for leak detection, packaging and distribution.
Lou Kennedy authors a perspective every South Carolina resident should read see more
Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. manufactures lifesaving medications that help people breathe. In the midst of a pandemic, it is more critical than ever that our team stays healthy, so we can keep patients healthy.
This was one reason we stayed motivated over the past year to step up for our community, state and nation to aid the response to COVID-19. When the opportunity arose for Nephron to partner with Dominion Energy South Carolina and launch a COVID-19 vaccination drive-thru, we embraced it — just as many of our employees, myself included, jumped at the chance to be vaccinated.
It was the least we could do to help keep South Carolina’s recovery on track. After all, we have been proud of the way our state, guided by Gov. Henry McMaster, has led. We struck the right balance between public health and economic prosperity. We never closed down, and we avoided many of the problems neighboring states have battled.
However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the lag our state — and, frankly, our company — has seen in citizens being vaccinated. The initial enthusiasm for getting vaccinated has given way to hesitancy. I want to change that. I hope my colleagues around the business community will join me in the effort.
Why is it important to me for the people of South Carolina, the employees of our company and workers everywhere to get vaccinated?
After a year of masks and mandates, viruses and virtual meetings, I am tired of having the economy impacted, and recreation curtailed, by concerns that interacting with people could lead to long-term health challenges, such as those associated with COVID-19. I agree with our governor: We do not need new restrictions in South Carolina. It is time to return to normal — for good.
I also believe in science. As the CEO of one of the fastest-growing pharmaceuticals manufacturers in the country, I work with dozens of brilliant scientists. We know there are real concerns about contracting COVID-19 and the new, dangerous strains of the virus cropping up around the world.
If we truly want to return to normal, and do so in a permanent way, then there is no alternative to getting vaccinated. Luckily, in South Carolina, there are countless places where vaccines are available. Come to the Nephron drive-thru vaccination location (in West Columbia) and get your shot. There is no charge. Or contact the state Department of Health and Environmental Control about where to get vaccinated. Again, there is no charge.
Do you own a business? Give your employees incentives to get the shot. We did. Employees who received the vaccine by a certain date at Nephron were entered into a drawing to receive free paid time off. This was a win-win — for workers, it was a chance to earn a meaningful prize, and for the company, it meant a safer and healthier work environment.
Nephron employees who still have not been vaccinated are required to wear masks. Like other critical health care and manufacturing facilities, Nephron is a place too many people depend on for us to risk a widespread outbreak of any virus. What we hope is that we can encourage enough of our employees to get vaccinated that we do not have to consider additional mandates or more serious measures in response to unvaccinated employees.
Vaccinations remain one of the surest ways each of us can do the right thing — by our friends, families, state and nation — during these unprecedented days. If you have not been vaccinated, I hope you will join me and get the shot. Each of us can contribute to the health and safety of our companies and our country. Doing so may mean the difference between keeping the place where you work open and seeing it closed — not to mention the difference between life and death.
Lou Kennedy is CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation and a Lexington resident.