South Carolina's fastest-growing industry stars in new SCBIZ Magazine features see more
The 14-page feature spanned four stories, from the trends driving the rapid growth of life sciences in South Carolina, to major advances in life science research happening here at home. A fabulous story on how SCBIO and life sciences organizations are working to close the workforce gap is also included, as well as an industry salute for our role in helping America emerge from COVID. It's a tremendous section.
Over 20 organizations are featured in stories, and nearly as many industry leaders from across SC are quoted in articles, enriched with photos, industry data on segments and market penetration, and more.
More than two years in the making by the SCBIO team who worked with SCBIZ to bring this first-ever magazine feature on the industry to life, SCBIZ intends to build on this year's momentum and do another life sciences feature next Summer. READ THE ENTIRE SECTION HERE!
Nephron Pharmaceuticals continues on rapid growth curve... see more
Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ expansion is progressing as production gets underway on a spate of new business ventures — from at-home COVID-19 test kits to chemotherapy drugs.
Since 2020, the West Columbia drug maker has invested $215 million to build out its campus in Lexington County’s Saxe Gotha Industrial Park. In the past month, the company hired 1,500 new part-time workers as it ramps up production of new product lines, CEO Lou Kennedy said, bringing it to 1,200 full-time employees and 2,500 part-timers.
The hiring spree comes as Nephron produced 30 million doses of reagent for Abbott Laboratories’ at-home COVID-19 test kits last month and assembled about 1 million kits. Kennedy hopes to increase kit production to 2 million per month in January as demand for them has skyrocketed amid new variants of the deadly virus.
Apprenticeship program paying dividends for Nephron see more
Five graduates have completed Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s 2021 Pharmacy Technician Apprentice Program with the highest grade point average and completion rate in the history of the program, started in January 2018.
The class’s completion rate of 100% and its GPA of more than 3.5 set records for the program, a partnership between Nephron and Midlands Technical College.
"We could not be more excited about this bright group of future pharmacy technicians,” Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy said in a news release. “They demonstrated precisely the kind of hard work, determination and attention to detail it takes to excel in an increasingly competitive professional field. We look forward to watching them as they flourish into the industry leaders of tomorrow.”
The program marked Nephron’s first official apprenticeship through Apprenticeship Carolina and the U.S. Department of Labor. Students are enrolled in MTC’s seven-month pharmacy technician certification program.
Each Nephron employee will continue to work full time while completing the MTC program, with all educational costs paid by Nephron, according to the release.
The 2021 Pharmacy Technician Apprenticeship class members are:
- Yulander Brown
- Hannelore Ignacio
- Sha’Keela Shiggs
- Gabriela Solla
- Michelle Whetstone
Nephron steps up to help state's most vulnerable see more
As children ages 5 to 11 become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation has announced the opening of a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine clinic at its vaccination drive-thru in West Columbia. The clinic is open Monday – Friday from 12:00 PM – 5:30 PM.
Nephron, in partnership with Dominion Energy South Carolina, launched a convenient drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site earlier this year. The drive-thru is located on Dominion Energy property off of I-77 at Exit 2. In addition to providing the space for a drive-thru, Dominion Energy is also generously contributing power and logistics support.
As a part of its ongoing efforts to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nephron offers Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations to citizens, including those ages 5 to 11, who are eligible. This includes regular doses and boosters for adults, during regular hours, which remain Monday – Friday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
Nephron registered nurses and pharmacists are administering vaccinations, with assistance from Nephron CLIA-certified diagnostics lab employees.
COVID-19 tests are also available as a part of the drive-thru. Nephron established a diagnostics lab last year in order to conduct COVID-19 tests. Since opening the lab, Nephron has tested thousands of people across the state for COVID-19 – including employees, students, educators, athletes and families – as the company does its part to keep South Carolina healthy and safe during the public health crisis. The Nephron CLIA-certified lab procured state-of-the-art technology for COVID-19 real-time PCR testing and serological antibody testing. Results are delivered within 24-48 hours.
SCBIO Names Louisiana Economic Development Executive James Chappell as CEO to Lead State’s Fastest-Growing IndustryGoal to “take South Carolina life sciences to an entirely new level” see more
Following a nationwide search that targeted 200 candidates in 39 states and resulted in 116 total applications from across the country, the Board of Directors of SCBIO has named James Chappell, an executive with Louisiana Economic Development, as the organization’s new President and Chief Executive Officer.
Dr. Chappell, whose career also includes time with Chartic Management Consulting in Boston, joined Louisiana Economic Development (LED) in 2013 and held positions of increasing responsibility at the organization including Executive Director of State Economic Competitiveness before being named Executive Director of Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship for the organization in 2021.
During his tenure at LED, Dr. Chappell’s numerous successes included designing and implementing the state’s $100 million venture capital and small business funds, developing strategies to recruit globally recognized companies to the state , and joining the Louisiana MediFund board to develop strategies to increase the biosciences and healthcare industries in Louisiana. He also collaborated with bioscience and technology advocates to improve incentives to promote growth in the bioscience and technology industries.
Dr Chappell earned his B.S. and M.S. in Plant Environmental Sciences from Clemson University, his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Stem Cell Biology focusing on cancer and diabetes from Harvard Medical School. A three-year varsity football letterman while at Clemson, he is married with two children. He will begin his new role with SCBIO starting November 8, 2021.
“SCBIO and South Carolina life sciences are excited to welcome James to lead this dynamic and forward-looking industry organization, and to help our hundreds of life sciences companies and thousands of employees and innovators take it to an entirely new level,” said Lou Kennedy, Board Chair of SCBIO and founder and CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, and a member of the search committee. “Competition for the position was extremely strong but we unanimously felt that his credentials in both life sciences and economic development were the precise mix we sought as we continue to build, advance and grow the industry in South Carolina.”
Life sciences has a $12 billion economic impact in the Palmetto State, with more than 700 firms involved and over 43,000 professionals employed in the research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental, and agricultural biotechnology products. It also represents a significant economic development focus for the state, led by the South Carolina Department of Commerce and other regional economic development teams.
South Carolina life sciences has seen a near-doubling of firms and 40% increase in life sciences’ direct employment since 2017, which combine to make it the fastest growing industry sector in the state, according to data provided by Dr. Joseph Von Nessen, state research economist and noted economic development expert with the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.
“As a South Carolina native, I am thrilled to join SCBIO and return home. South Carolina has become an emerging leader in life sciences, and I am excited to continue SCBIO’s great work in helping to grow the life sciences industry,” noted Dr. Chappell.
Ms. Kennedy went on to thank SCBIO Interim CEO Erin Ford for her critical contributions in leading the organization during the search process, which began in May with the resignation of prior CEO Sam Konduros.
“Erin continued to do a strong and stellar job in leading the organization, charting the path, and maintaining the momentum without missing a beat during this national search, and our board and membership are grateful to her. The entire board and SCBIO membership are excited that she will remain a key part of the organization in her prior role of Executive Vice President and COO to add a steady and experienced hand to crafting an exciting new future.”
Ms. Ford has served as primary lead for SCBIO’s business operations and finances, championing investor relations and existing industry strategies, and spearheading integrated marketing initiatives. She has managed the majority of the organization’s day-to-day requirements since joining SCBIO in 2017.
Since 2017, SCBIO has more than tripled membership and quadrupled revenues, implemented a strong economic development focus, and launched a new innovation platform. It serves as the voice of the life sciences industry, implemented a surging workforce development initiative and created ongoing programs to encourage participation by women in life sciences, to support diversity-equity-inclusion initiatives and to encourage student participation in the industry. The organization also successfully led industry and organizational pivots during the COVID pandemic. In a recent executive order, Governor Henry McMaster authorized SCBIO and the state’s Commerce Department to work together to accelerate the onshoring and repatriation of the pharmaceutical industry and vital PPE products and technologies to South Carolina.
For additional information on SCBIO, please visit www.SCBIO.org.
Nephron went looking for a way to automate syringe-filling for small batch manufacturing, found more see more
t’s no secret that working long hours in a cleanroom environment can be grueling. The bunny suits can get sweltering and the hours doing monotonous tasks can drag. On top of that, staffing cleanroom techs for an around-the-clock operation can be a major challenge for pharma companies.
With the hope of overcoming these issues, South Carolina-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals recently went looking for a way to automate syringe-filling for small batch manufacturing and turned to the brainpower nearby.
Within the University of South Carolina, the Office of Innovation, Partnerships, and Economic Engagement (OIPEE) provides a way for companies to engage with students and faculty to solve vexing industry problems.
“The university can bring a client in, and we’ll create a solution for that client with advanced manufacturing,” Bill Kirkland, executive director of OIPEE, explains.
For Nephron, that solution was robotics. After striking up a partnership, students and researchers from UofSC eventually innovated a new automated syringe-filling system that utilizes flexible, high-speed robots provided by Yaskawa Motoman and processing power developed by Siemens. According to Kirkland, the system’s robotic arm that works under a single hood is part of what makes it unique. It was also designed specifically for small-batch operations, and importantly for Nephron, the new technology will help eliminate manufacturing downtime.
“We have a workforce issue in that we have lots of trained sterile pharma techs, but expecting them to show up every shift 24/7 is challenging,” Lou Kennedy, CEO of Nephron, says. “So, for example, if someone calls in sick, this allows us to do many steps using robotics, and it keeps us from having to shut down.”
Although there are other robotic syringe-filling solutions on the market, Kennedy says she has never seen a system as small and nimble as the one built by UofSC.
“It operates underneath a flow hood in a cleanroom and that’s important because we are working with injectables,” Kennedy says. “And it’s compact and can move from one cleanroom to another.”
After the technology was developed, the system was installed in a Nephron facility earlier this year, where Kennedy says the company is perfecting the tech and it is being commercially validated. Once they find the manufacturing “sweet spot” and it wins regulatory approval, the companies plan to license and commercialize the technology. Ultimately, the plan is to target biopharma facilities and hospitals in need of small-batch manufacturing solutions.
“By virtue of its previous relationships with Yaskawa and Siemens, UofSC faculty and OIPEE pitched this solution to Nephron, who agreed to bear some of the initial cost of setting up the research facility in the McNAIR [Aerospace] Center,” Kirkland said in a statement this spring. “All three companies, as well as the university, will benefit greatly from the introduction of this system into the commercial space.”
In addition to being a boon for the Nephron, the collaboration also showcased how industry partnerships can be a stepping stone for engineering and manufacturing students — including those who were not considering a career in pharma before. According to Kirkland, one of the students involved in the collaboration went on to score a job at Siemens, and another did the same at Nephron.
“Partnerships like this one are a win for patients, employees and students, not to mention for companies like ours, that continue to grow and expand our capacity to help others,” Kennedy said in a statement this spring.
South Carolina and National executive address what's next for South Carolina as we battle COVID. see more
On September 9, 2021 SCBIO hosted a statewide webinar program entitled "COVID-19 and South Carolina: What's Next?". The program was attended by a large audience across South Carolina, including business leaders, healthcare executives, elected officials, and regional media.
BIO’s Phyllis Arthur, Nephron Pharmaceutical’s Lou Kennedy and VCOM’s Matt Cannon shared their views on what obstacles we have to overcome to get through this latest surge, using science as the foundation. This discussion also addressed the science, data and real life experiences confronting us all as we manage our response to the Delta Variant of COVID-19. It’s a conversation you won’t want to miss if you aren’t sure about vaccines, antibodies, masks and more.
Top executives opine on what's next for SC as Covid surges see more
After attending a Chamber of Commerce breakfast where a hospital CEO ticked off statistics about the number of unvaccinated patients suffering from Covid – many in their 20s and 30s – Nephron Pharmaceuticals CEO Lou Kennedy decided something had to be done.
So she mandated vaccination at her company and today, everyone at the West Columbia business, which manufactures generic respiratory products, has had the shot, she said. And she lost just 30 out of 2,000 employees over the decision.
“It was the right thing to do, and I encourage my fellow business leaders to follow suit,” Kennedy said. “Somebody had to be the first to do it, and why not make it us.”
In addition, Kennedy said, the company spent $2.5 million last year on people being out of work and overtime to cover them – money that could have been spent on innovation, such as the mask the company introduced for patients getting nebulizer treatments that protects the health care provider from respiratory droplets.
Kennedy spoke at an online event hosted by SC BIO, the Palmetto State’s life sciences group, to discuss what comes next in the pandemic.
South Carolina is still lagging in vaccinations, said SC BIO interim CEO Erin Ford, with Covid deaths on the rise.
By Sept. 7, just 49 percent of residents had been fully vaccinated, and 58 percent had had at least one shot, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Meanwhile, nearly 780,000 cases had been confirmed by that date and 11,050 South Carolinians had died, DHEC reports.
But the number of vaccinations is slowly rising, Ford said, offering some hope that things will turn around.
The full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine pushed some people to get vaccinated in recent weeks, said Phyllis Arthur, vice president of infectious diseases and diagnostic policy at BIO Global, the world’s largest advocacy association representing member companies, state biotechnology groups, academic and research institutions.
But many are rolling up their sleeves after seeing how the Delta variant left loved ones sick and dying, she said.
“Delta is nearly twice as contagious as the previous variants,” she said. “And … (it) moved so quickly and spread so fast we saw a giant spike in cases and deaths. When immunization numbers go up, we will see cases come down.”
The speakers agreed that the greatest obstacle to making progress in the fight against the virus is the politicization of the pandemic and misinformation.
“There’s no R or D in the word science. It has nothing to do with your favorite politician,” said Kennedy. “This is science.”
Arthur said people should beware of misinformation and trust the scientists who’ve done the work on the virus.
“One of the things I ask people to do is look at the source of what you’re reading and hearing,” she said. “Look at the data yourself. It’s all publicly available and it’s very transparent.
And Dr. Matthew Cannon, dean of the Carolinas Campus of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, agreed.
“(It’s) being politicized, in my opinion, and I just hope people would look at it objectively, not through partisanship,” he said. “This is a public health crisis.”
Cannon said that as of Sept. 7, one Upstate hospital had 278 Covid patients and all but 25 were unvaccinated. Another had 566 Covid patients and all but 41 were unvaccinated. The average age of the vaccinated patients was 75 to 78, he said, and they were immunocompromised. The average age of the unvaccinated patients was 50, he said.
Though breakthrough cases occasionally occur among the vaccinated, Arthur said they typically are milder and of shorter duration.
She said she expects FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children younger than 12 in the next month or so and the Moderna vaccine in the next few months.
Kennedy said her antibody level dropped from 6,900 to 3,800 in recent weeks and is watching to see when the booster is approved.
There are still two steps to go before a booster is approved for the general population, but that it could come in a matter of weeks, Arthur said.
And Cannon said the college is working on research to determine when boosters should be given, noting the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been around for years.
Arthur added that the mRNA technology will be able to be used for many vaccines and even disease treatments.
“You can speed the next product, and that can allow us to have many more innovations from the treatment perspective and the vaccine perspective,” she said. “It’s the same for monoclonal antibodies. And that will ripple through the industry for years to come.”
Cannon said he’s proud of the health care workers who are surrounded by contagious Covid patients putting them and their families at risk, but continue to step up every day for the greater good of the community.
Nonetheless, he said, he worries about the stress they endure, seeing so much loss and knowing it could be prevented.
Meanwhile, he said, although medical residents got the experience of learning how to work in the midst of a pandemic - something their predecessors never had - they are missing out on some hands-on training because hospitals are canceling elective procedures.
Kennedy said the employees who refused vaccination weren’t willing to listen to the science. And while she got lots of phone calls asking whether there were protests in the street about her mandate, it all went smoothly.
“There were a couple people grumbling in the plant,” she said, “but it amounted to much ado about nothing.”
All the speakers encouraged everyone to be vaccinated and wear masks.
“It will prevent you from giving the virus to someone else,” said Cannon, “or from them giving it to you.”
“We’re in this together,” said Arthur, “and we can get out of it together.”
University of South Carolina initiative saving lives see more
A gentle hum can be heard from a lab in the depths of the University of South Carolina's life sciences building. Take a peek inside, and you'll find something unusual.
Thousands of tubes of the spit belonging to the university's students, faculty, staff and Columbia residents.
Almost a year ago, the school's colon cancer lab changed course from its usual area of study and started analyzing how it could help as COVID-19 ravaged the world, killing hundreds of thousands across the country and shutting down campuses.
USC professors had a breakthrough when they started studying saliva there, said biomedical sciences professor Phillip Buckhaults.
They ended up creating what looks like a blue cocktail — and it exposes the COVID-19 genome in our saliva.
"We figured out a way to photocopy bits of the COVID genome," Buckhaults said. "It's like a liquid photocopier."
It's proven to be more efficient than nasal swabs for COVID-19 testing. There's no uncomfortable nasal swab involved. Materials for nasal-swab testing are often limited. And these saliva results come quicker. Those who get tested on USC's campus typically receive results within 24 hours.
When the saliva testing first began on campus, scientists were pipetting saliva samples with the "photocopier" liquid to see the COVID-19 genome appeared in the DNA when the saliva was "photocopied" several times.
Because it was done solely by hand, they were able to test only several dozen samples a day.
"The demand was more than we could keep up with," Buckhaults said.
So he sent an email pleading with USC president Harris Pastides for a liquid-handling robot that's able to do the pipetting automatically, saving a lot of time.
Pastides then got South Carolina-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals owner Lou Kennedy to write Buckhault a $14,000 check to buy one of the robots.
"Within two weeks, we went from a junkie, underutilized, decrepit lab space to really state-of-the-art," said laboratory director and professor Carolyn Banister.
Buckhaults also credited former USC president Bob Caslen for removing roadblocks to get more machines and a bigger lab — speeding up the process to speed up the process, so to speak.
Caslen worked with the state government and university officials to get thousands of dollars for lab equipment and borrowed testing machines from nearby labs, Buckhaults said.
"He saved a lot of lives in the Midlands by pouring resources into (Banister) and that lab and getting this test running," Buckhaults said.
Now, the lab is testing about 2,000 samples a day and returning samples within 24 hours, and its reach is beyond the Midlands. Quick-turnaround testing allows people to identify themselves as COVID-19-positive earlier and isolate themselves, reducing the spread of the virus and saving lives.
The testing technology has expanded across the state. USC satellite campuses, including Upstate and Union, as well as Clemson, Winthrop, the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College are able to use the saliva tests created at the USC lab.
The testing is able to recognize different variants of COVID-19 as well.
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.
Once again, Lou Kennedy and Nephron step up for South Carolina see more
A South Carolina-based pharmaceutical manufacturer that has offered coronavirus vaccines to the public and run thousands of COVID-19 tests throughout the pandemic will now require all of its employees to get inoculated.
Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. is mandating that all of the company’s nearly 2,000 workers be fully vaccinated or have started a two-dose vaccine series by Aug. 27, unless the employee has “an exemption or reasonable accommodation,” according to CEO Lou Kennedy.
The company is one of the first major businesses in South Carolina, other than hospitals, to publicly declare such a directive. Details of the requirement were shared with The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement Monday.
“As COVID-19 cases, driven by the deadly serious Delta variant, continue to impact communities and businesses alike, we can be one of the first businesses of our size to have a fully-vaccinated workforce,” Kennedy wrote in a company-wide letter.
Kennedy told reporters that employees who are not vaccinated by the deadline and can’t provide a medical or religious exemption will be fired, and she isn’t worried about lawsuits.
“I’ll be very sad if we lose even the first person,” Kennedy said. “I hate that, but we’ve got to do what is right, to keep us healthy so we can keep others healthy.”
Nephron, which makes a number of drugs used to treat COVID-19 patients, is also mandating all visitors, vendors and guests be fully vaccinated. Those who need the shots can get them from Nephron itself, which has run a vaccine site in West Columbia since February.
The company is still compiling data on how many of its workers are vaccinated.
A growing number of hospitals around the state, including the Medical University of South Carolina and Tidelands, have made vaccination a requirement for health care employees. Prisma Health, South Carolina’s largest hospital system, has offered incentives to staffers instead, news outlets have reported.
The Nephron announcement comes as vaccine rates continue to lag. Less than half of eligible South Carolinians were fully vaccinated as of last week, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Although most businesses in the state have yet to implement such requirements, the resurgence of the virus with the highly contagious delta variant has prompted many to consider a mandate, S.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Morgan told The Associated Press on Monday.
More and more businesses will likely require employees to be vaccinated, following Nephron’s lead and the expected full approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration later this fall, Morgan said: “Momentum is growing.”
Lawmakers in the South Carolina Senate did approve a proposal that would prevent employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for workers earlier this year. That measure still awaits House action.
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.
Lou Kennedy and Nephron Team step up for SC again see more
Glove Plant Will Shore Up Domestic Supply Chain, Reduce American Dependence on Foreign Sources of Medical-Grade Gloves & Create New Jobs
WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. – During a celebration attended by strategic partners, business leaders and public officials, Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation CEO Lou Kennedy and Governor Henry McMaster today announced the opening of Nephron Nitrile, a plant that will produce American-made, medical-grade nitrile gloves.
The announcement is the latest Nephron expansion on the sprawling company campus located at Saxe-Gotha Industrial Park in Lexington County.
Nephron Nitrile – which will be headquartered in more than 400,000 square feet of space in the Kennedy Innovation Complex – represents an investment of more than $100 million in the Midlands. The plant will generate 250 jobs for the area.
“This is a historic day for our company, and, we believe, for South Carolina,” said Kennedy. “Over the course of the last year, we have poured every bit of creativity, energy and resources we have at our disposal into doing our part, as a proud Made-in-America manufacturer, to respond to an unprecedented crisis. Nephron Nitrile is the latest part of our ongoing effort to make South Carolina the nationwide example for effectively responding to America’s needs, this time by shoring up the domestic supply chain.”
Kennedy and the governor, along with the entire Nephron team, have made reducing the American dependence on foreign sources of critical health care-related items, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and lifesaving medications, a top priority. Kennedy joined the governor in April when he announced an executive order to safeguard South Carolina from supply chain disruptions, such as those caused by countries like China, experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic by working to manufacture even more essential, life-saving products in South Carolina.
Now, just months later, Kennedy and her team at Nephron are stepping up once again. In doing the work on the front end of the announcement to secure partnerships with trusted companies to provide raw materials, machinery and technology, Nephron is in position to make a significant difference in bolstering the PPE supply chain by early 2022.
“It is critical that South Carolina lead the charge in bringing the production of life-saving medications and supplies back home to the United States,” said Governor McMaster. “After last year’s supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I announced a new initiative aimed at expanding recruitment efforts of pharmaceutical and medical supply manufacturers in the Palmetto State. Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation’s continued investment in South Carolina and our people will go a long way toward creating much-needed independence in this industry. This great company continues to show that we have the talent and the ability to do anything we put our minds to, right here in South Carolina.”
Last July, Kennedy announced an investment of $215 million for Lexington County, bringing 380 new full-time jobs to the area by 2024, and adding new office, warehouse and vaccine production space. This announcement included the establishment of the Kennedy Innovation Complex, home of Nephron Nitrile, and these projects are ahead of schedule. Since re-locating company headquarters to Lexington County from Orlando, Nephron has invested more than a half billion dollars in the region, creating almost 2,000 full and part time jobs.
“Lexington County is beyond excited to say congratulations again to Nephron Pharmaceuticals,” said Lexington County Council Chairman M. Todd Cullum. “The county is enthusiastic about this announcement as much or more than the company’s original announcement to locate in Lexington County. Their investment in hard assets and jobs is second to none in South Carolina. Nephron’s partnership with Lexington County has been tremendous in helping to improve the quality of life in our county and the region. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this extraordinary company.”
A West Columbia, S.C.-based company, Nephron develops and produces safe, affordable generic inhalation solutions and suspension products. The company also operates an industry-leading 503B Outsourcing Facility division which produces pre-filled sterile syringes, luer-lock vials, IV bottles and IV bags for hospitals across America, in an effort to alleviate drug shortage needs. Nephron launched a CLIA-certified diagnostics lab last year where it tests people for COVID-19 and administers vaccinations.
For more information regarding Nephron Nitrile, including orders and partnerships, please email: NephronNitrile@nephronpharm.com.
Red Cross CEO: Nephron and Lou Kennedy have been great partners see more
Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation announced the donation of a Dodge Promaster 3500 to the American Red Cross of South Carolina on Wednesday.
The donation of the vehicle will provide critical assistance with disaster response and the processing of life-saving blood donations.
“I am honored to be a part of this effort that includes providing critical disaster relief to families and collecting and delivering blood to those in need across the state,” said Lou Kennedy, CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, and member of the board of directors for Red Cross of the Lowcountry, who also serves as the Biomed Committee chair.
These vehicles are important to the Red Cross mission to collect, test, and deliver blood to patients. Vans like these are essential in disaster situations, enabling the Red Cross to lift up families impacted by everything from fires to hurricanes.
The announcement was made at the Nephron headquarters, where Lou Kennedy and Rod Tolbert, CEO of American Red Cross of South Carolina, held a ribbon-cutting to commemorate the delivery of the new van.
“Nephron Pharmaceuticals and their CEO Lou Kennedy have been such great partners to the American Red Cross. We simply cannot and will not be able to deliver our mission across our great state without partners and supporters like Lou and Nephron Pharmaceuticals,” said Rod Tolbert.
In addition to Kennedy and Tolbert, Brenda Green participated in the event, thanking the Red Cross and its leadership for the work the Red Cross does to assist children like her son, who has sickle cell anemia. World Sickle Cell Day is June 19.
“We thank you, Lou,” said Green. “We thank you for this opportunity. I think I can say on behalf of all of the parents and all of the caregivers of those with sickle cell that we appreciate you and your efforts. You are helping to save lives.”
Nephron's Lou Kennedy on building a career while building up people see more
The executive who strides into her expansive office may have come a long way from the Fulton County government building where she once stood in line to get her water service turned back on, but Lou Kennedy remains the same Lexington County product, rooted in hard work and family, that other S.C. businesses leaders say they have known for decades.
The national spotlight has recently shone on Kennedy, owner and CEO of West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp., as a program she created to help teachers earn extra cash was featured on NBC News while her on-premise lab has churned out respiratory drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic and processed tests for the community. But those who have known her the longest say that, along a career path that wound through Georgia and Florida before circling back to her hometown, Kennedy has never changed who she is.
“Lou has always been a dynamo,” said Sam Konduros, the former CEO of SCBIO who recently became president and CEO of a new health innovation division at Charleston-based Vikor Scientific. “Her mother taught me first grade. We actually met when we were six years old at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Columbia and have known each other ever since.”
With a July birthday three days before Kennedy’s, Konduros shares both her Zodiac sign of Cancer and her love for the water.
“She says Cancers are water babies and that’s why we both love swimming, boating and being at the lake all the time,” Konduros said. “I’ve said there is not one passive bone in Lou’s body, and that’s the truth. She is very action-oriented, and very results-driven.
“I love that about her, but the fact is, she is so much fun to be around, too, just a great personality and zest for life.”
Kim Wilkerson, president of South Carolina for Bank of America, grew up “caddywampus backdoor neighbors” with Kennedy in the Cayce subdivision of Edenwood, home to many families with members employed by Eastman Chemical Co., where Kennedy’s father worked for 44 years.
“Our daddies worked together at Eastman back when we were little girls,” said Wilkerson, who is five years Kennedy’s senior. “I’ve known Lou literally just about her whole life. … She is just a very genuine person. What you see with Lou is absolutely what you get.”
Although Kennedy has led Nephron since 2007, there are still those who are surprised by what they see when she walks into a room, ever-present high heels clicking.
“If they haven’t seen a picture of me — now it’s better, because you have social media — they’re going to assume Lou’s a man,” Kennedy said. “You call always tell: ‘Oh, we’re waiting on Lou Kennedy.’ ‘Hi, I’m Lou Kennedy.’ ”
Kennedy has also encountered those who know who she is but have a faulty perception of how she came to be where she is. She said she still deals with folks who think her success is from her husband, Bill Kennedy, a fellow University of South Carolina graduate who in 1997 founded Nephron, a producer and manufacturer of generic respiratory medication that relocated from Orlando, Fla., to Lexington County in 2017.
“That happens to this day,” she said. “If you spend about half a day around here, you’ll see that that’s not the case. My husband and I are 20 years difference in age. He has a pharmacy degree. I have a journalism degree. So one would think that I got a kind of free ride onto his coattails. But what you have to know is he doesn’t like daily execution. He likes business, five and 10 years (out) and what’s going to be the goal for this profitability or the pricing mechanism. He doesn’t want to know what goes on to make the sausage. He wants to talk about who’s the buyer of the sausage, what’s the contractual price, those kinds of things.
“Once you spend some time around us, which has happened with our bankers, which has happened with the lawyers — they know now that they’re going to face Bill for this kind of question, and they’re going to face me for what goes on around here.”
Long road home
Kennedy left Lexington County after college in search of bigger things on a journey that took her to Atlanta and Houston, among other places, and through difficult life experiences that proved invaluable.
“I had two failed marriages. The father of my child, the second ex-husband, was an addict, and it was a really, really tough life,” Kennedy said. “He did a lot to ruin my credit, a lot to make life hard for me, but I’m forever grateful, because when you have to live with an addict, you learn a lot about the field of psychology. How not to set them off, how not to cause this to happen, how not to have the house come tumbling down, how to keep the creditors from evicting you. These are skills in my little middle-class wonderful upbringing that I never thought I’d have to have. But I swear I benefit. I can see bull---- from 40 miles off. I can spot a con artist, a liar.
“I got my daughter from that. I’m never regretful, because many of the skills that serve me well today came out of those rough eight to 10 years.”
As she got back on her feet, Kennedy, with a background in marketing, worked three jobs, including a stint as a house painter with daughter Xanna often in tow.
“She’d sit, on the weekends, underneath me on a ladder,” Kennedy said. “I had all these Little Golden Books for her to try and read to keep her occupied so I could make enough to keep our lights on. I had this little blond mouth to feed. You just figure it out.”
Visting South Carolina for a girlfriend’s shower, Kennedy was talked into meeting someone, a friend of her friend’s brother-in-law, who had also gone through a divorce. The girlfriend’s selling point to her? “ ‘We think you might at least finally have somebody who could afford to pay for the date,’ ” Kennedy said.
After spilling a glass of wine on her, Bill Kennedy told her what he did for a living. Xanna took one of the respiratory drugs, albuterol, manufactured by Nephron, and Kennedy’s interest was piqued. She peppered her new acquaintance with questions about his business, learning he had three customers.
“I met him 10 minutes before this, and I said, ‘Don’t you think you ought to diversify? Three customers. Aren’t you a little concerned?’ ” Kennedy said. “And that’s how this whole thing started.”
The personal partnership became professional when Kennedy joined Nephron in 2001. As the Kennedys were contemplating a Nephron expansion in Florida, Lou Kennedy reached out to an old friend with economic development connections at the S.C. Department of Commerce.
“She called on a day that she was a little frustrated and said, ‘You know, I really think it’s time for us to look at South Carolina to diversify where our company is going,’ ” Konduros said. “I ended up looping her in with the Department of Commerce leadership, and the rest is kind of history. Not only did they diversify to South Carolina, they ended up bringing the entire company, and here we are, several years later, with over 2,000 employees and a huge expansion.”
Work on Nephron’s $215.8 million expansion of its Saxe-Gotha Industrial Park campus, announced last July and projected to increase its workforce by 380 workers, is nearing completion. The project was the fourth-most lucrative capital investment secured by the state in 2020 and the latest in a line of Nephron initiatives that have boosted the state and area economy.
The Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center in the University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy was established by a $30 million gift announced in 2010, the biggest splash in a long-time partnership between the Kennedys and their alma mater that has also included a donation to the Pastides Alumni Center. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company also donated more than 100,000 bottles of company-made hand sanitizer to the university.
“There’s a reason that people call her Cockadoodle Lou,” said Wes Hickman, CEO of the University of South Carolina Alumni Association. “She is one of the biggest fans and supporters of our institution, and the generosity she and Bill have shown the university and the alumni association in particular have made a real difference. … Beyond the financial support, it’s her engagement and her willingness to share ideas, to participate in events, and to help drive innovation.”
Nephron has also donated its hand sanitizer to the Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center, partnered with Clemson University to develop rapid robotic drug processing and has donated welding equipment to programs at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College. The company also partnered with Dominion Energy to transform Dominion-owned land off Interstate 77 near Nephron’s campus into a drive-through COVID vaccination site that was inoculating up to 150 people per day in February.
Wilkerson pointed to that initiative as an example of how Kennedy gets things done — and fast.
“She is a real difference-maker,” Wilkerson said. “She’s a dot connector, an outside-the-box thinker, (and) because she is such an outside-the-box thinker, she is able to make things happen so quickly. She looks for ways to collaborate with others to make a difference for the greater good. … Her Lexington County roots really have paid off for us here in the Midlands.”
‘Lift as you climb’
For Meghan Hickman, like many Midlands professionals, Kennedy’s reputation proceeded her.
“I remember hearing stories of Lou before I actually got to meet her,” said Hickman, executive director of nonprofit economic development organization EngenuitySC who has worked with Kennedy on initiatives to improve the Midlands’ competitiveness and livability. “The story I kept hearing was that she was boundless energy and would take these men on tours of this facility in high heels and outwalk all of them. I was like, ‘I don’t know who this woman is, but I want to meet her.’ ”
The reality exceeded the expectation.
“She’s one of those personalities that has a way of magnifying any room she’s in,” Hickman said. “When she’s around, you know it. When she’s participating, she wants to be relevant. She wants to play a role. She doesn’t give anything just half of who she is. … One of the things that I love the most about Lou is her unabashed candor. She is honest to a fault, and I love watching the way that she will say what’s on her mind and on her heart in a room without any fear of how it will land or without fear of repercussion. I love that bravery.”
That freedom stems from success in putting principals into practice. Nephron, a certified woman-owned business as recognized by the National Women Business Owner Corp., employees a workforce that is 44% female and is offering a diversity internship program this summer.
Kennedy believes in such efforts because she has seen what they produce. At the height of the pandemic in March 2020, Nephron’s monthly production of inhalation solutions increased 141% from 80 million doses shipped to 193 million. And while demand has since subsided, Nephron is still operating all 12 of its production lines while adding new packaging lines.
The company is also in talks with two potential vaccine partners to help produce pre-filled sterile syringes and are part of the company’s booming 503B Outsourcing Facility arm that supplies hospitals nationwide and is newly supported by the 110,000-square-foot vaccine production, chemotherapy and antibiotic wing that is part of its expansion.
Such results give Kennedy confidence in her methods.
“After this many years as the lone female in the room, I feel like it’s really the right person for the job,” Kennedy said. “It’s not my problem to get you to accept that I’m the right person for the job. That’s your problem. If I’m putting numbers on paper and we’re productive and we do the things that we promise patients we’re going to do, then haven’t I already proven that I’m the right person for the job? You can respect me or not. That’s not my problem anymore. That’s yours.”
These days, respect for Kennedy is not in short supply. Elected to the National Association of Manufacturers board of directors in March, Kennedy is chair of the SCBIO board, a position she has also held for the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. Awards line the shelves of her office, and she’s particularly proud of a recent honor: In March, Lou and Bill Kennedy were recognized with the 2021 Townes Award from the S.C. Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.
The award is named for S.C. native Dr. Charles Townes, whose pioneering research into lasers earned him both the Nobel and Templeton prizes. Kennedy especially appreciates the honor’s focus on encouraging STEM education.
“Much as I love my journalism degree, I really wish I’d have stepped out on a limb, taken an extra three hours of some sort of science other than a geology class,” she said. “I do regret not taking high school chemistry. I’m always telling kids, even if you make a C, learn it. Just go learn it.”
Journalism did afford Kennedy one of her first mentors: Mary Caldwell, a journalism professor of Kennedy’s for whom the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications’ excellence in teaching award is named.
“She had a snappy briefcase, and in the 80s, you still carried briefcases,” Kennedy said. “She whisked in there and she, just like me, loved to wear heels. She’d come into class and she had a blazer, she had a snappy briefcase and some heels, and she had worked in Atlanta in a giant PR firm, and that to me seemed like an episode of Mad Men from my little seat in Lexington County. Atlanta, New York, Madison Avenue — it all seemed like big potatoes to me. She would look at me and say, ‘’You can do anything you want to do. You just have to work hard enough.’ ”
And Kennedy believes hard work has given her a different kind of knowledge.
“I definitely think there is a value to a female in a leadership role with the focus on emotional intelligence,” she said. “Forget the academic IQ of it. I mean emotional intelligence. Are the people ready for a bold statement? Do you need to couch something? I just believe the communication skills that most women utilize when they’re working on any project serve us well.”
Some of those professional skills were borne out of personal hardships, Kennedy said.
“When you have to struggle as a single mom to put food on the table, pay for gas, pay the rent, pay the light bill — forget having cable; that was too much of a luxury — all of that makes you cognizant of how to look toward a leaner operation,” she said. “And when you live with a spouse that has a lot of issues, it teaches you about reading people. … I’m telling you. I feel like it’s a life experience Ph.D. in psychology is what I’ve obtained, based on my experiences.
“It’s not an academic Ph.D.; it’s a lifetime wear and tear.”
A product of those life lessons is a phrase that Wilkerson, Hickman and other women who’ve worked with Kennedy use: Lift as you climb.
“We get into a place and we send the elevator back down to pick others up and bring them with us,” Wilkerson said. “This idea of lifting as you climb, for Lou and for me, is very, very real. It’s just a part of how we think.
“We are both in unique positions of being able to help young women see what’s possible.”
Echoed Hickman: “Particularly with females, for a long time, opportunities that came along to lead were so few and far between that you fiercely protected those opportunities. It’s almost like, for women in leadership, there was a scarcity mindset that defined what it meant to be a leader, as opposed to this abundance mindset. … With Lou, there’s such an abundance mindset.
“It doesn’t matter whether she’s working in her business or she’s working in the community. There is no such thing as scarcity. There is abundant opportunity.”
Contributing to her hometown, in an office “which, as the crow flies, is right through the woods” from Eastman Park, where her family picnicked in facilities maintained by her father, makes extending those opportunities all the more meaningful for Kennedy.
“You walk around here and there are people that actually worked with my daddy in the first part of their career, so that feels really good,” Kennedy said. “It feels good to do that in South Carolina. I had said I was never coming back. I left for 35 years, and to come home and provide jobs is way more meaningful than doing it in Orlando, Florida.”
With a lineage from the Tennessee mountains that includes a Baptist preacher grandfather and tobacco-farming relatives, Kennedy saw that attitude exemplified by her parents, Nancy and Jerry Wood. Kennedy’s mother signed her up for gymnastics classes so she could be better prepared for cheerleading tryouts and “expected perfection in all things,” Kennedy said. “She would probably argue that she didn’t, but she did … My dad’s the greatest man ever. He can just do anything, fix anything. He could patch a cheerleader uniform. He could sew. He can do all these things. So I guess maybe I’ve always aspired to try and be half as useful.”
Kennedy is proud of what she’s been able to give back to her community and pleased when employees, especially women, chose science careers after working at Nephron. And while she’s quick to show off pictures of new grandson Lincoln, Kennedy laughs at the idea of contemplating her legacy right now.
“Are you kidding me?” she said. “I’m more focused on what isn’t right than that.”