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!
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.”
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.
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.”
Nephron's Lou Kennedy making a big impact on industry see more
Courtesy of SC Manufacturing
Drug shortages have plagued the health care system for decades. Even prior to COVID-19, hospitals incurred more than $400 million in labor costs and alternative treatment options due to national generic drug shortages, especially for those administered via injection.
More important, research shows shortages lead to adverse patient outcomes – things like delaying critical procedures, rationing doses based on supply levels and prescribing suboptimal treatment plans with substitute drugs.
Manufacturing tops the list as the most common cause of shortages, pushing those in the pharmaceutical supply chain to look for new ways to increase productivity – and thanks to a partnership between Clemson University and Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation, a solution may be on the horizon.
Led by Dr. Yue “Sophie” Wang, the ambitious project combines robotics and medicine to ensure sterility, quality, safety and efficiency in pharmaceutical manufacturing. The team worked in partnership with South Carolina-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation to develop a flexible, easy to use, open-source benchtop robot that can fill, cap and seal sterile syringes.
“Pharmaceutical collaborative robots is a new and quickly growing research area,” said Wang, who serves as the Warren H. Owen Duke Energy Associate Professor of Engineering at Clemson University. “By combining our expertise with unique applications in pharmaceutical manufacturing, we hope to benefit both patients and the industry through increased efficiency in syringe manufacturing.”
The project supports the Nephron 503B Outsourcing Facility, a cGMP manufacturer providing sterile, pre-filled medications to address persistent drug shortages in hospitals and medical facilities across America. Pre-filled syringes help control costs by minimizing drug overfill and minimizing microbial contamination. Without robotics, filling these syringes is a delicate, highly regulated process completed by specialized technicians under laminar airflow hoods in ISO classified clean rooms to keep their work environments sterile.
It can take up to five employees a day per hood to meet the incredible demand for pre-filled syringes at Nephron. Unlike humans, robots don’t get tired, offering advantages in quality control, production planning and compliance.
Technicians can then be re-deployed for higher value functions that let them improve their skills, experience and pay, said Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy.
“Anything we can do to improve drug shortages, that’s just good for patients,” she added. “It’s a very big crisis, not just in the U.S. but globally as well.”
The next phase of the project is further development, starting with the completion of a purpose-built clean room on Clemson’s campus. Kennedy hopes to commercialize the benchtop system for use inside healthcare facilities across the country.
“Hospitals often have two or three pharmacists working the phones every day searching for the drugs they need,” said Kennedy. “You don’t go to school for eight years to spend your day on the phone looking for product.”
Partnering for change
Clemson and Nephron are at the forefront of a larger trend shaping pharmaceutical manufacturing today. The integration of automation, AI and robotics are catalyzing the industry, and rising demand paired with major market disruptions such as COVID-19 are only accelerating change. The pharmaceutical robotic systems market is expected to nearly double to $119.46 million from just five years ago, driven by innovations in packaging, inspection and lab work, according to one report.
Part of what has made the project successful is the complementary strengths Nephron and Clemson brought to the table. Wang needed an insider’s perspective on pharmaceutical manufacturing to understand the exact requirements and processes involved in sterile syringe production.
Based in West Columbia, Nephron is a certified woman-owned business and one of the fastest-growing companies in South Carolina. The partnership was developed through External Affairs’ Office of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives at Clemson University.
“As a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer, Nephron is the perfect partner for specialized, high-impact research to improve health outcomes for patients,” said Angie Leidinger, Clemson’s vice president for External Affairs. “Thanks to our partners, our breakthrough research continues to build Clemson’s and South Carolina’s reputation for leadership in both advanced manufacturing and life sciences.”
In addition to Clemson’s world-class research talent, Nephron was also drawn to the University’s steady stream of talented graduates that could hit the ground running at their facilities.
“We’re a young company and want to play a role in developing all of this great talent we have around us,” said Kennedy. “I decided it was time to put game day feelings aside and look at where our talent was really coming from.”
Women taking the lead
Like most STEM industries, women continue to be a minority in the pharmaceutical manufacturing workforce, at 42.3 percent of total employment. If the partnership between Clemson and Nephron is any indication, that gap could be shrinking fast.
With Kennedy at the helm, Nephron is a certified woman-owned business and boasts a 53 percent female workforce. Ratios like that are unheard of in our industry, she says. It’s only fitting that project leadership from the Clemson side is female.
Clemson is home to many groundbreaking women in the industry, including Martine LaBerge as chair of the Department of Bioengineering, Saara DeWalt as chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, and Delphine Dean as the Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor, among many others. Dean is also a key researcher and first line of defense in the University’s response to the global pandemic.
“It’s so pleasant to see women thriving in STEM careers,” said Kennedy.
South Carolina featured in JD Supra article see more
South Carolina has long been known for its colorful history, beautiful beaches and vibrant tourist industry. In recent decades, it has also come to be well known for its high-tech manufacturing with the likes of BMW, Boeing, Honda, Michelin, Samsung and Volvo, all locating large manufacturing facilities throughout the State. What you might not know is that South Carolina is also home to another rapidly growing high-tech industry—the Life Sciences industry.
The term Life Sciences is generally used to include companies in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, life systems technologies, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, food processing, environmental, and biomedical devices. The Life Sciences industry also includes organizations and institutions that devote the majority of their efforts in the various stages of research, development, technology transfer and commercialization, as well as the companies who support these entities.
According to SCBIO, the trade association which represents the Life Sciences industry in South Carolina, there are over 700 companies and businesses actively engaged in the Life Sciences industry in South Carolina and at least one Life Sciences organization is located in 42 of the State’s 46 counties. The economic impact of the Life Sciences industry is approaching $12 billion per year and is continuing to increase, according to a recent study. It is also estimated that the Life Sciences industry has created over 40,000 high paying jobs in South Carolina over the last several years, with an average annual salary of over $70,000.
The Life Sciences industry in South Carolina is very diverse. It includes companies ranging from small startups focusing on developing new technology like Okra Medical, to a unique genetic clinical and research institution like Greenwood Genetic Center, which has been serving the State for decades, to large established companies like Nephron Pharmaceuticals. Nephron is a pharmaceutical manufacturer and cGMP compliant 503(B) Outsourcing facility, and a global leader in the manufacture of generic respiratory medication that has rapidly expanded its manufacturing capacity and services over the last seven years. Nephron is owned and led by Lou Kennedy, whose vision and leadership have spurred the Company’s growth and success and have also made her one of the State’s most important business leaders, as well as an important thought leader in the Life Sciences industry.
South Carolina is a pro-business state that has worked diligently to attract large companies looking for a friendlier business climate from a tax and regulatory perspective. An additional driver for the growth of the Life Sciences industry is the existing ecosystem for Life Sciences, which is supported by the State’s three major research universities: University of South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina and Clemson University as well as over ten additional universities and colleges in the State - from Furman University with its innovation program and nationally recognized chemistry department, to Newberry College launching new curriculum and a degree focused on pharmaceutical manufacturing. These universities and colleges further validate the increasing depth of the existing ecosystem and the positive impact it will have on strengthening the talent pool available to the Life Sciences industry. Other factors contributing towards this growth are the efforts of the South Carolina Department of Commerce and the South Carolina Research Authority, the strong system of hospitals and health care systems within the State, the support of various economic development alliances, the State’s expanding technical college system, the support of elected officials and the growth and leadership of SCBIO over the last several years.
SCBIO has spearheaded a series of joint private / public initiatives to promote the growth of the Life Sciences industry in South Carolina. These efforts include promoting statewide economic development strategies to attract Life Sciences companies to locate or relocate in South Carolina and consistently promoting and strengthening the existing ecosystem which allows established South Carolina Life Sciences organizations to collaborate, grow and flourish. In addition to its economic development efforts, SCBIO has integrated its efforts with the broader mission to transform and positively impact healthcare as evidenced by its unique alliances forged with the South Carolina Hospital Association, several large health systems and large payers like Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina. For the past four years, SCBIO has been led by its CEO, Sam Konduros. Konduros has experience with economic development, operations of Life Sciences companies, developing start-up companies and most importantly—developing and implementing an ambitious strategic plan for the Life Sciences industry. During his time at SCBIO, Konduros has assembled a talented team. His vision and energy have fueled a rapid growth in membership and engagement and an increased in awareness and support for the Life Sciences industry across the State. Under his leadership, SCBIO significantly expanded its membership and quadrupled its revenues, while at the same time establishing itself as a powerful force for economic development and creating a new platform for Life Sciences companies to collaborate on innovations and research. Earlier this month, Konduros announced his departure from SCBIO to serve on the Board of Vikor Scientific, another successful company within the Life Sciences space in South Carolina that is rapidly expanding. He will also serve as CEO of a new health innovation company powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies focusing on science personalized medicine strategies that will be a part of Vikor Scientific’s expanding portfolio of companies. SCBIO is conducting a national search for Konduros’ replacement and there is no doubt that the association and its members will continue to benefit from the momentum created over the last four years as it continues to push the Life Sciences industry forward.
The global COVID-19 pandemic presented a profound challenge to the Life Sciences industry as it disrupted the way business was conducted. The Life Sciences industry in South Carolina stepped up to these challenges and turned them into opportunities. Many Life Sciences companies pivoted from their existing strategic plans to address the needs of the State and Nation by providing assistance in key areas that became critical during the pandemic. Companies like Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Vikor Scientific, KIYATEC, Premier Medical Lab Services and others offered much needed expanded COVID-19 testing services inside and outside South Carolina. Others such as ZVerse, a digital manufacturing company, modified its business model to become one of the largest producers of reusable face shields for use during the pandemic and beyond. Over the last 12 months, they have produced millions of these reusable facemasks and have been recognized throughout the country for their efforts. Rhythmlink International, a medical device leader, donated thousands of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals and other healthcare providers across South Carolina. In addition, Milliken & Company boosted its production of biosmart fabrics used in scrubs and lab coats, which uses chlorine bleach-activated technology and molecular engineering to kill up to 99.9% of the bacteria and viruses it touches. Headquartered in Greenville, Vitalink Research was selected by Moderna to run its Phase III vaccine clinical trial, demonstrating national confidence in Life Sciences research operations in South Carolina. These are just a few examples of how South Carolina Life Sciences companies responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight why the Life Sciences industry is one of the fastest growing segments of South Carolina’s economy.
The future of the Life Sciences industry is bright in South Carolina. South Carolina has become an attractive place to develop and expand Life Sciences companies and there is great leadership within these companies. The rapid growth of Life Sciences is becoming more apparent to the public and media. In February 2021, Governor McMaster proclaimed February 15-19 as South Carolina Life Sciences Week in the Palmetto State. Our Life Sciences companies are leading the discussions of how to bring more Life Sciences manufacturing back to the U.S, including to South Carolina, and how to develop a domestic source of PPE and other parts of the supply chain. There is also increased collaboration on leveraging increased use of technology like telehealth and digital health to deliver health care services to rural and less developed areas using technology developed and perfected in South Carolina. SCBIO is also leading an effort to expand and improve the workforce to support Life Sciences companies. All signs point to a very bright future for the Life Sciences industry and South Carolina is just beginning to see the benefits of this growth and development.
Life sciences company establishes diversity internship program see more
The ISPE Foundation and Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation announced a partnership on the ISPE Foundation Diversity Internship Program's newest cycle to provide world-class opportunities to groups that are typically underrepresented in the pharmaceutical industry.
Established December 2020, the pilot ISPE Foundation Diversity Internship Program received a strong response from applicants. This series with Nephron will be a 12-week experience that offers graduate and undergraduate students in their junior or senior year the opportunity to spend the summer working on priority projects for one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies in the country.
“I am delighted and honored to announce the partnership of Nephron Pharmaceuticals with the ISPE Foundation on its Diversity Internship Program,” said Antonio Moreira, PhD, ISPE Foundation Board Chair, Vice Provost, Academic Affairs, University of Maryland Baltimore County. “Over the coming years, a diverse pool of very talented students will be engaged in a variety of technologically stimulating projects under the guidance and mentorship of Nephron Pharmaceuticals scientists and engineers. These life changing experiences will inspire the interns to continue pursuing the many career opportunities that the pharmaceutical industry offers to these future leaders.”
“We pride ourselves on two things: first, we do everything we can to make sure that everyone has a chance to achieve their dreams, and second, we utilize interns and apprentices in everything we do – they are playing key roles in our expansion and growth,” said Lou Kennedy, CEO, Nephron. “This is why I am so excited to partner with the ISPE Foundation to rollout these new internship opportunities. They represent a win-win – for participants and for our company. We are proud to invest in talented young people, and we are excited they want to invest in us. We cannot wait to get started.”
There are currently multiple internship opportunities through the ISPE Foundation-Nephron partnership, including in the following departments:
- Analytical Services and Formulation
- Molecular Biology
The individuals participating in these internships will play key roles in Nephron’s ongoing projects. They will work directly with the entire Nephron team. And they will make a difference for patients across America.
The deadline to submit is 6 May 2021. To learn more, please visit ISPEFoundation.org/Diversity-Internship-Program.
About ISPE and ISPE Foundation
The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) is a not-for-profit association serving its 18,000+ Members through leading scientific, technical, and regulatory advancement across the entire pharmaceutical lifecycle. Founded in 2017 as the philanthropic arm of ISPE, the ISPE Foundation supports education, training, and research for the advancement of innovative technologies and provides solutions to global challenges in the development, manufacture, and supply of quality pharmaceutical products for the benefit of patients around the world. To aide in this endeavor, the Foundation focuses on initiatives related to increasing the technical knowledge of the incoming workforce, fostering diversity within the industry, and supporting efforts to bring quality pharmaceutical manufacturing to new markets. Visit ISPEFoundation.org for more information.
About Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation
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 and IV bags for hospitals across America, in an effort to alleviate their drug shortage needs.
Inquiries related to the program may be directed to Foundation@ISPE.org.
Kennedy's honored for continuous service to GSSM, state see more
The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science + Mathematics (GSSM) and its Foundation honored Lou and Bill Kennedy with the 2021 Townes Award during “Empowering STEM Leaders,” the 27th annual Townes Award Celebration, Wednesday, March 17, 6-9 p.m. at 1208 Washington Place in Columbia.
“GSSM was honored to present the Townes Award to Lou and Bill Kennedy in recognition of their transformational leadership and commitment to empowering future generations of scientists, engineers, and innovators,” said Beth Dinndorf, executive director of the GSSM Foundation.
“GSSM seeks out and advances our state’s most talented and motivated students,” said Danny Dorsel, GSSM Interim President and GSSM Class of 1990. “Charles Townes and Lou and Bill Kennedy are shining examples for these young minds to challenge themselves to be innovative and make a difference in our world.”
Named for South Carolinian Dr. Charles Townes, whose visionary spirit and pioneering research led to the invention of the laser, the Townes Award recognizes individuals, businesses, and institutions that have transformed South Carolina and the world.
“Bill and I are very deeply humbled and really excited to accept an award named in honor of an extraordinary South Carolinian who was able to achieve the Nobel Prize and the Templeton Prize, as well as many other things. This is such an auspicious group, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Lou Kennedy said in her acceptance remarks.
Lou and Bill Kennedy are co-owners, and Lou is the CEO, of Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation, a South Carolina-based company that develops and produces safe, affordable generic inhalation solutions and suspension products, including those used to treat severe respiratory distress symptoms associated with COVID-19.
SCBIO, 3 life sciences companies highlighted in media reports see more
Courtesy Greenville News/Gannett
As the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines have ramped up in recent weeks, life science firms in South Carolina have pivoted to play a role in the vaccination campaign.
After weeks of only 60,000 dose allocations in January, that figure has doubled with over 130,000 first doses expected to arrive in South Carolina this week.
The brands are well known — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson — but lesser known companies have played a role in the clinical trials and ancillary supplies critical to the rollout of the vaccine and some are found in the Palmetto State.
Gov. Henry McMaster celebrated SCBIO, a life sciences non-profit, and the industry in February for their great year. Part of that success was in response to COVID-19.
"While 2020 will forever be remembered as the year of an unmerciful global pandemic, our stakeholders heroically rose to the challenge," Sam Konduros, SCBIO's president and CEO, wrote in the non-profit's 2020 report.
SCBIO and over 100 industry firms supported pandemic efforts such as distribution of personal protective equipment — which includes creating an online PPE exchange portal — creation of a jobs portal, testing and promoted proper mask use on social media.
That list now includes COVID-19 vaccines research and packaging, and potentially its production.
Clinical trials vital to vaccine development
The Moderna vaccine was authorized for emergency use on Dec. 18 after clinical trials proved its effectiveness and safety. VitaLink, a Greenville based research company, played an important role in Moderna's phase 3 trials.
South Carolina had four Moderna phase 3 clinical trial locations out of the nearly 100 locations around the country. Three trial locations — Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg — were conducted by VitaLink Research, a South Carolina based research company which specializes in respiratory medicine.
"It really was just a natural fit for us," Steve Clemons, VitaLink's CEO and president, said.
Clemons expected roughly 400 participants through the three sites but the Upstate had roughly 1,200 of the 30,000 enrolled participants nationwide.
"There should be an awful lot of pride to the Upstate because, frankly, we as VitaLink couldn't have done this without the volunteers," Clemons said.
Participants were enrolled in the summer and either received the drug or a placebo.
One of these participants was George Acker who has learned since talking with The News in November that he got the placebo — to his surprise.
The studies were unblinded in January and those who received the placebo were able to get the real vaccine.
Acker has received both shots since then.
VitaLink continues to conduct monthly follow-ups with participants for two years to track side effects, safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Nearly 400,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in South Carolina in the last three months.
The Moderna product has played a vital role in vaccinating long-term care facility residents and staff as initial allocations were given to these populations.
Clemons is proud that VitaLink has played a part in the solution to the pandemic but also in their work in general.
"I get to treat people every day using, kind of, tomorrow's therapies," Clemons said. "And I get paid to do it and patients never get billed."
Packaging of Pfizer vaccines
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires ultra cold storage, around minus 70 degrees Celsius. This makes shipment a little more challenging but a local packaging company had the solution.
They supply ultra-cold temperature shippers which keep vaccines between minus 90 and minus 60 degrees Celsius for at least ten days unopened with the use of dry ice and insulation. If managed well, these reusable containers can store vaccines for about a month by re-icing the dry ice.
"[Softbox] immediately understood the unprecedented task at hand that was in front of us with the distribution of the vaccine," Tanya Alcorn, Pfizer's vice president for biopharma global supply chain, said in a March 10 press release. "And quickly started to work with us to develop a unique packaging system that does not waste any precious vaccine and creates a seamless experience for customers.”
One of two manufacturing centers supporting the vaccine distribution is located in Greenville, the other is in the Netherlands.
"Our Americas headquarters in Greenville features a full qualification testing lab, product engineering capabilities, and a world-class team," John Hammes, Softbox's general manager of the Americas, said. "All of which helped us support Pfizer in the fight against COVID and develop a way to successfully distribute a vaccine to support the global community."
Vaccines could soon be filled in the Lowcountry
Lou Kennedy didn't expect on her company would be filling vaccines, but she also didn't plan on the pandemic — no one did.
In addition to helping with COVID-19 testing efforts, she thought Nephron Pharmaceuticals could take it a step further and help with the vaccinations.
"We have the type of equipment already in our possession, we will have it retooled," Kennedy said. "We'll build a wing and it is our sincere desire to find a vaccine partner — like Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson — and say, let us fill some of the capacity that the American patient needs."
The Lexington County-based company is currently undergoing a $215 million expansions which includes a 110,000 square foot vaccine production space. Kennedy expects at least 380 new jobs with the expansion.
About 300 of those could be centered around the vaccine production and she hopes to partner with a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer to fill vaccines and help ramp up vaccine supply.
Nephron is currently working to find a vaccine partner. It could be Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, or it could be another brand who could receive authorization in the U.S., Kennedy said.
"Between now and the time we move in there, there could be 10 new ones, so we're keeping our eyes and ears open," Kennedy said.
They've already hired about half the people they need. The building is still being worked on but once it's completed, Kennedy believes the production lines could be operational by the summer.
The expansion, originally announced in July, will also include a new office, a new warehouse, expanded secondary packaging operations and a 20,000 square foot machine shop.
In the meantime, Nephron Pharmaceuticals already partnered with Dominion Energy to set up a drive-thru vaccination site in Lexington County in February.
"I had this idea that why can't we help the vaccination," Kennedy said. "We have nurses on staff and we have [doctors of pharmacy]."
Dominion Energy provided the space and set up a temporary power pole for Nephron's nurses and staff. They also enlisted the help of Rick Lee, a Department of Environmental Control board member from Rock Hill, on how to best setup a drive-thru clinic.
Like health systems across the state, Nephron is running this clinic out of their own pocket. Vaccines and ancillary supplies are supplied by the government, but staff and other costs are not.
"We're not getting reimbursed for any of this," Kennedy said. "We're doing this out of the bottom of our heart."
The drive-thru site has ramped up from about 30 vaccinations per day when it first opened to about 150 vaccinations per day by March. Kennedy hopes to get this up to 300 per day.
Life sciences executive named to national NAMB Board see more
Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation today announced CEO Lou Kennedy as a new member of the National Association of Manufacturers Board of Directors.
Kennedy, who was elected on Monday, joins the NAM Board to bolster the association’s leadership in policy advocacy, workforce solutions, legal action, operational excellence and news and insights. She will help the industry advance an agenda that promotes growth and prosperity for all Americans.
“I could not be more excited and honored to join the board,” said Kennedy. “Our team has been fortunate to work with NAM over the last few years on critical issues, from COVID-19 to workforce development, and we are always impressed by the results NAM delivers for its members, as well as for employers and employees across the nation.”
NAM and its members are at the forefront of every important policy debate for manufacturers and have led the nation’s response to COVID-19.
Board members play a key role in the NAM’s “Creators Wanted” campaign, a member-driven initiative to inspire and drive more Americans to pursue careers in modern manufacturing.
“Lou Kennedy is a recognized leader in our industry, and the NAM will be stronger thanks to her service on our Board of Directors,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Manufacturers are the driving force behind our economic recovery and our fight to defeat COVID-19. We are working with lawmakers to ensure they deliver the relief America needs and the long-term policy work on issues like infrastructure investment, immigration reform, trade expansion and workforce development. We will also defend the progress we’ve made on tax reform and regulatory certainty to ensure we can keep our promises to invest in our people and communities and build the strongest economy possible. The NAM’s mission is to ensure we always keep moving forward, and Lou will bring invaluable insights as we advocate for the men and women of our industry and advance the values that have made America exceptional and our industry strong — free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity.”
A West Columbia, S.C.-based company, Nephron is a nationwide leader in the development and production of 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 and IV bags for hospitals across America, in an effort to alleviate drug shortage needs. The company recently opened a CLIA-certified diagnostics lab, conducts COVID-19 tests and administers vaccines. Nephron announced a new $215 million investment and expansion in July, signaling a new era of unprecedented growth, including the establishment of a vaccine production facility.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12.2 million men and women, contributes $2.32 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and has the largest economic multiplier of any major sector and accounts for 63% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.
Executive Partnering, Virtual Exhibit Hall Add Draw for Power of Us Conference Feb. 16-17 see more
With conference registration surging more than 20% past prior record levels and the addition of a “singularly significant innovation announcement focused on cancer treatments and precision medicine advancement”, SCBIO's “The Power of Us” virtual conference Feb. 16-17 is preparing for its largest gathering ever next week... delivered virtually to registrants from across the Palmetto State plus 25 states and 8 countries.
Adding to the excitement is a just-scheduled “major innovation announcement” by a South Carolina company, in tandem with West Coast and German allies, that has significant implications for cancer diagnosis and treatment on a global level, organizers say.
Already in excess of 500 registrants from across America and around the globe, the acclaimed SCBIO conference – the annual gathering of South Carolina’s life sciences community – will also celebrate the rapid growth of the industry and the contributions of its 800+ organizations in helping America and the world overcome the brutal COVID-19 pandemic.
South Carolina life sciences has seen a 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 recent data provided by Dr. Joseph Von Nessen, the state's research economist and noted economic development expert with the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.
“Dr. Von Nessen’s data validates that the life sciences industry in South Carolina is experiencing stunning growth, thanks to the combined efforts of our state’s economic development teams, industry partners, research universities, elected officials and other partners,” said SCBIO CEO Sam Konduros. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of an industry that is saving lives and improving quality of care.”
The industry has a $12+ billion economic impact in the Palmetto State, with more than 800 firms located in 42 of 46 counties across the state and over 43,000 professionals employed directly or indirectly in research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental and agricultural biotechnology products.
Organizers are tight-lipped about the Innovation Announcement details, which will be unveiled at 8:30 a.m. on the second day of the conference—February 17.
“We will say that the implications of the announcement include a new technology that has the ability to detect cancers at the earliest time ever, to further lifespans, and to unlock a new era of precision medicine, ” said Mr. Konduros.
Adding to the draw of the conference are scores of organizations from across America showcasing their capabilities in a virtual exhibit hall, direct 1-to-1 executive meetings on demand via a Partnering Portal, major industry awards and – naturally – top speakers.
Committed presenters include BIO Global CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath; Microsoft Vice President Jamie Harper, who leads the global team supporting higher education and K-12 initiatives; and Bill Stadtlander, Commercial Leader of Verily, the Google subsidiary focused on life sciences and use of health data and AI to improve lives.
Also speaking at SCBIO 2021 are Courtney Christian, Senior Director of Policy and Research at PhRMA and former leader of the Black Women's Health Imperative; Dr. Harris Pastides, former USC President and outgoing chair of the SC Institute of Medicine and Public Health; Dr. Pat Cawley, CEO of MUSC Health; and Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, Dean of the USC School of Medicine - Upstate and Chief Academic Officer of Prisma Health Upstate, among others.
Themed “The Power of Us,” the 2-day SCBIO 2021 virtual event will feature sessions on The Power of Innovation, The Power of Partnership, and The Power of People – each a fundamental force which drives the state’s surging $12 billion industry that is a key contributor to South Carolina’s expanding knowledge economy.
The conference will also feature SCBIO CEO Sam Konduros delivering the “State of South Carolina’s Life Sciences Industry” address, and release of SCBIO’s 2020 annual report.
Leaders already registered to attend include executives from Presenting Sponsor Vikor Scientific, Champion Sponsor Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Keynote Sponsor Medpoint, Pinnacle Awards Sponsor Softbox and others. Leading biotech and med-tech industry brands participating include BIO, Johnson & Johnson, AVX, PhRMA, AdvaMed, Poly-Med, VWR, Ritedose Corporation, Rhythmlink, ZEUS, Patheon Thermo Fisher, Zverse, Abbott, Alcami, SSOE – Stevens & Wilkinson, and more. All of South Carolina’s research universities – MUSC, Clemson and the University of South Carolina – are represented, as are major healthcare systems, the South Carolina Department of Commerce, SCRA, South Carolina Hospital Association and others.
Registration is open online at the 2021 Virtual Conference section of www.scbio.org. Registration is free to employees of most SCBIO investors and supporters as well as to students interested in life sciences careers, while faculty and teachers can attend the entire conference for $25. General admission tickets are available for as little as $75. Virtual Exhibit space and sponsorships are also available by inquiring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information on SCBIO or to register for SCBIO 2021, visit www.SCBIO.org.