Companies find ways to thrive despite pandemic see more
Seven months ago, John Carrington took a deep breath and pushed all his chips to the center of the table.
His Columbia company, ZVerse, was at a crossroads. Founded in 2013 as a 3D design and software solutions provider, the Shop Road outfit faced overwhelming demand for the protective face shield that had grown from an idea hatched to help local hospitals into orders multiplying into the millions.
“The first request we had was for 3,000 units, which we could solve, no problem,” Carrington said. “The next day it was 10,000, and the next day it was 50,000, and at that point we knew that 3D printing would not be able to keep up with that demand. … We had to place a bet.”
The wager involved shutting down for a few weeks to completely retool ZVerse’s production process to injection molding while scaling up from an 8,000-square-foot facility to a 30,000-square-foot one that could fill three tractor-trailers a day. Continue reading by clicking here...
PPE available through national exchange see more
The spring 2020 collaboration between SCMEP, the SC Hospital Association, the SC Department of Commerce and SCBIO which launched the online South Carolina Emergency Supply Collaborative portal to provide critical personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare providers, hospitals and businesses across the Palmetto State has taken a giant leap forward.
The SC Emergency Supply Collaborative has joined forces with the national team at PPE Exchange to provide a dramatically expanded and fully automated resource for accessing PPE and supplies for all South Carolina businesses.
PPE Exchange is an online marketplace of regional and national suppliers of PPE, similar in concept to an Amazon but dedicated to the provision of PPE and essential supplies. Via PPE Exchange, hospitals, health care providers and businesses seeking supplies are virtually connected to a marketplace of already-verified suppliers to securely search for items, schedule orders, compare prices and complete transactions.
Among the enhanced benefits of sourcing supplies via PPE Exchange is its support technology built on blockchain, allowing buyers: to track transactions from order placement to delivery; access to over 200 regional and national suppliers; easy ability to source from SC-based suppliers; price comparison capabilities; ability to order in small volumes; and a “request a quote” feature.
“The demand for PPE continues to be critical to our state and its diverse businesses and healthcare providers,” said Chuck Spangler, President of the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership and a spokesperson for the Emergency Supply Collaborative. “After creating and operating the South Carolina COVID-19 Emergency Supply portal with our partners these past several months, we identified PPE Exchange as an organization with the secure technology platform, expanded mix of vendors and products, and service-driven operations approach to provide the secure digital marketplace that Palmetto State organizations seeking PPE deserve.”
Much as with the prior Collaborative portal, PPE Exchange connects parties in need of essential supplies and equipment with those that can provide it quickly and efficiently. It allows industry providers of critical medical supplies (such as face shields, gowns, ventilators and masks) from South Carolina and across the U.S. to directly connect with the healthcare providers and members of industry in search of essential supplies in one easy step. South Carolina suppliers of goods are clearly marked to ensure that Palmetto State organizations can “Shop SC” as desired.
To begin accessing the marketplace on PPE Exchange, visit https://www.ppe.exchange/ and request access. Upon entering a contact email and basic information, an email will be automatically sent prompting a password reset and allowing login to the PPE Exchange website.
“Whether from a South Carolina or a South Dakota supplier, organizations and individuals can go online 24/7 via PPE Exchange to identify and select the critical need items they need from the expanded menu of providers and offerings,” said Sam Konduros, CEO of SCBIO. “We encourage every member of our state’s industry, if you have a need for PPE products, or want to add your products to the growing registry of vendors, to visit PPE Exchange now.”
Visit PPE Exchange at https://ppe.exchange/.
COVID testing expands in workplace see more
As industry begins to reopen across the state, life science companies turn their sights to expanding COVID-19 diagnostic and antibody testing options for the workplace.
Greenville-based lab Precision Genetics partnered with Prisma Health in early April to process the health care system’s COVID-19 tests within 24-hours of reaching the lab.
Now that this testing line is fully automated with the capacity to churn out about 1,000 samples in a matter of hours, the lab is developing plans for the next testing battleground with a high-throughput COVID-19 diagnostic program called “Precision Worker Safety” and a smartphone employee wellness app created by Questis that uses an RFID thermometer to report feverish temperatures to employers.
“Up here in Greenville, manufacturing is a huge, huge part of our economic situation, so we have to be able to provide employers some kind of assurance that their employees can come back to work without a rapid spread of the virus,” Nate Wilbourne, CEO and president of Precision Genetics said, adding that it is “naive” to think the state peaked in mid-April with so little testing.
He said Precision is working with several large self-insured manufacturing companies as well as poultry suppliers to develop a salvia-based testing strategy. Pending a state-supported grant that the lab applied for during the week of May 1, Precision will launch saliva-based testing within three weeks.
Other methods of testing face a waiting period before they can be implemented, while the app is several months away from release, he said.
“What we’ve developed is a combination approach to COVID-19 screening and an antibody test as it evolves, as the workforce is building up an immunity at the individual level, which reduces the spread over time,” he said. “Until there’s a vaccine or some type of therapy, that is the safest way to go about this.”
In late April, however, Wilbourne said current antibody tests led to a number of false positives and negatives.
“Unfortunately, antibody testing is not very reliable today, as it sits,” he said. “There are still a lot of gaps in the science regarding the sensitivities and specifications. Right now, there are 50 proteins in the coronavirus. Right now, we (the health science community) are testing for multiple proteins, but there’s no way to guarantee which protein creates immunity.”
He also said antibody testing can only detect antibodies a few weeks after individuals have recovered from COVID-19 but noted that the work of professionals like Dr. John Wrangle, Precision’s chief medical officer and medical oncologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, are heading up research to broaden the window of antibody detection and accuracy of the tests.
Sam Konduros, CEO and president of SCBio, said the life sciences economic development network is working to support continued research and implementation of both diagnostic and antibody testing across the state.
“Even from the beginning, we were trying to present every approved and available COVID-19 test kit option we were aware of, and as you can imagine, we are moving heavily into the world of antibody testing now too,” he said. Our primary goal in representing the life sciences industry in the state is to have a very ecumenical approach of what resources are available that can help employers reopen as safely as possible if working remotely is not an option.”
One way SCBio hopes to open those options to employers is making test kits readily available to state industries through the COVID-19 Emergency Supply Collaborative that SCBio helped develop with the S.C. Manufacturers Extension Partnership, the S.C. Hospital Association and S.C. Department of Commerce.
Created in early April with the goal of bridging shortages in personal protective equipment and other critical needs goods to health care systems, Konduros said the online portal also welcomes purchases from businesses, especially manufacturers, in need of South Carolina-made masks, disinfectant, test kits or a host of other high-demand products.
On April 7, Konduros also noted that antibody testing tended to be a less reliable indicator than diagnostic testing at this point, but he sees potential for companies to use both, especially as antibody testing becomes more sophisticated and “herd immunity” builds.
“From a diagnostic standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be a substitution for PCR testing, which is going to be the one way to confirm a diagnosis for someone with COVID-19, either someone who is showing acute symptoms or has had clear exposure, or is working in an environment where an employer would simply need to know there is that issue,” he said.
On the other hand, Konduros is intrigued by the potential of workforce antibody testing as research moves forward, especially with tests used by Abbott Laboratories, that detect IgG antibodies that remain in the bloodstream for several weeks after an individual recovers from COVID-19. He said that as the state moves into summer, Abbott is planning to release large quantities of IgG tests that are at least 98% accurate.
“I certainly think the antibody tests are going to innovate and improve over time, and there’s going to be a lot more data to see how people are responding who have had COVID-19 and what kind of immunity is being developed. There are just so many variables right now,” Konduros said.
Online portals like South Carolina's are connecting the needy with vital PPE see more
Online portals are connecting hospitals short on personal protective equipment with local businesses making the items.
Businesses across the country have switched gears away from the production of their usual wares to manufacturing personal protective equipment in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic.
But with equipment shortages and so many new vendors entering the marketplace, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other businesses looking for the supplies may not know where to turn. So, states have launched online portals to help match would-be customers with manufacturers that can meet their needs.
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Community and Economic Development launched a business-to-business directory last week that provides contact information for local manufacturers of a variety of N95 respirator masks and cloth masks, as well as thermometers. To compile the directory, the state put out a call for manufacturers or suppliers of in-demand PPE through two web portals.
“Through this process, we recognized that we can help foster direct business connections to provide Pennsylvanians access to critical supplies expeditiously without a middleman,” said Dennis Davin, secretary of the economic development agency.
The first portal launched in March and sought information from manufacturers and suppliers about equipment that the state could purchase for medical providers, emergency responders, and health care professionals. Through the second portal, the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal, companies could report their own supply chain capabilities, needs, or workforce gaps.
The nation’s economy has slowed down dramatically as states ordered residents to stay at home and non-essential businesses to close to help stop the spread of the virus. To both keep workers employed and to meet the staggering demands for masks and other equipment needed by health care providers, businesses across the country have begun repurposing their equipment and supplies to manufacture personal protective equipment.
Distilleries have swapped whiskey for hand sanitizer. A company that makes wallets and outdoor gear from recycled sailcloth is now manufacturing face shields. And a 3-D printing business is now churning out thousands of nasal test swabs.
But it’s made for a confusing marketplace, said Chuck Spangler, director of the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, one of several partners helping to run an online PPE supply portal in the state.
The launch of the South Carolina Covid-19 Emergency Supply Collaborative has made it much easier to track the current needs of hospitals and other medical providers and to funnel business back into local economies, Spangler said.
“We needed to know the demand from the health care providers so we could be more effective,” he said.
The collaborative, which has partnered with the state’s Department of Commerce, the South Carolina Hospital Association, and SCBIO, the voice of the South Carolina Life Sciences Industry, regularly updates the list of critical needs items on its website. When medical providers reach out to the collaborative to discuss their supply needs, the collaborative responds with a list of manufacturers or suppliers they have vetted to ensure they are properly licensed.
About 70% of the 172 of the manufacturers or suppliers currently working with the collaborative are located in South Carolina, which means the effort has been able to channel business back into the state’s economy while also meeting its healthcare needs, Spangler said.
As a result, some businesses have been able to limit the number of employees laid off during the economic crisis while others are even growing. Spangler said. One 3-D printing company that went from producing 30,000 face shields a day to 200,000 and had to staff up to accommodate the demand, he said.
He hopes the investment in local sourcing will help the state’s economy bounce back once the pandemic is over.
Challenges the collaborative expects to encounter in the near future include sourcing supplies for a broader array of businesses that will be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks as the state’s stay-at-home order is relaxed. Another hurdle will be securing equipment for small businesses that may have orders sidelined by their regular suppliers struggling to fill bulk orders.
“Their suppliers are pushing them out and saying, ‘Sorry you can’t get product until the end of May,’” Spangler said.
Acquiring an adequate amount of personal protective equipment will be vital to restarting local economies across the country.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson announced an online PPE portal this week, noting that a key pillar of his plan to reopen the state is expanding the state’s reserves of PPE by opening public and private supply chains. The state reports getting interest in the portal from more than 200 companies.
“Manufacturers across the state have answered the call to help protect our health care workers, and we are committed to doing all we can to get this equipment into the hands of those that need it,” Parson said.
Nephron gets nod from FDA see more
West-Columbia headquartered-Nephron Pharmaceutical Corp.’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has received an additional weapon.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the company’s request to add a production line used in the manufacturing of bronchodilator albuterol today, Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy told the Columbia Regional Business Report.
“This news came in 20 minutes ago,” Kennedy said Monday morning. “People are cheering. It’s like The Price is Right or something.”
Kennedy said she expects to hear whether a second production line has been approved later this week.
Last month, Kennedy petitioned the FDA to add up to six production lines moved to Columbia from the company’s previous Florida headquarters in 2019. Kennedy said the additional lines could help the sterile respiratory medication manufacturer keep up with unprecedented demand.
Kennedy said March saw a 141% increase in the doses of inhalation solutions Nephron typically produces a month.
“We went from a regular month of about 80 million shipped to 193 million shipped in March. That’s just for the respiratory side,” she said. “For our sterile injectable medications that we make for all the hospitals in America that have drug shortage needs, that was up by like 22%. We’re seeing the same exact trend in April.”
Kennedy praised the FDA for its quick response, saying the federal agency granted Nephron a CBE-30, “which means Change Being Effected. That’s giving you a goal date of 30 days or less to review your material and be able to say yes or no,” she said.
“That’s really something. You’ve just got to know and feel good as a patient or a potential patient in America that the FDA has been working with me on the phone almost every day, or by email, trying to get this through expeditiously so that we can crank up a few more lines.
“As much as we can make, we’re selling. I don’t want to get behind. So if we can get these other lines approved pretty quickly, then we’ll be able to pump out — if I get four lines, at least another 50 million a month.”
Also helping meet demand, Kennedy said, are the efforts of the S.C. Ports Authority.
Last Thursday, four gigantic containers of automated packaging equipment arrived at Nephron headquarters from Switzerland. Today, the company is expecting air delivery of critical supplies from Italy, one of the countries hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You know how difficult that was to pull off?” Kennedy said.
Kennedy developed a working relationship with the port as she moved hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment from Florida to West Columbia when Nephron relocated to South Carolina in 2014. During her time as chair of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce from 2018-19, Kennedy came to know S.C. Ports CEO Jim Newsome and COO Barbara Melvin well.
Expecting last week’s shipment of automated equipment to help Nephron workers quickly label, package and ship products, Kennedy called Melvin.
“I reached out to see what the situation was going to be like in getting these pieces of equipment,” she said. “That equipment, which was four giant containers, arrived to the dot at 9 a.m. (Thursday) morning all because of two great South Carolina partners — UPS and its hub that’s located one exit from me, and the Ports Authority.
“All of these drugs that are packaged will go to benefit speedier to-market products for patients with COVID-19. … This is front-line equipment that we need to get our products to market quicker.”
Nephron is also gearing up to begin releasing 100-mL saline bags for administration of sodium chlorine. The minibags, made scarce after the 2017 hurricane season hit manufacturer Baxter Healthcare hard, are once again in short supply, Kennedy said.
“We are very happy to say that we’ve been producing 100-mL saline for the last two weeks in anticipation for this going on shortage,” said Kennedy, who said the bags would be released this past Friday.
While Nephron has ramped up production in response to previous respiratory illnesses such as SARS and H1N1, Kennedy said the COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything she’s ever seen. Nephron began making its own hand sanitizer last month, distributing 50 liters to the William Jennings Bryan Dorn Veteran Affairs Center.
“I had absolutely no idea we’d reach these levels. I couldn’t even imagine, can’t even imagine, still am trying to process,” Kennedy said. “One particular day, two or three weeks ago, one hospital system in New York ordered 3,000 nebulizers from us. A typical thing might be 50, no more than 100. They ordered 3,000.”
S.C. Ports and other transportation partners have helped Nephron fill the exploding demand, Kennedy said, while Nephron workers are proud to be playing a role in combating the virus.
“I couldn’t even begin to compare ourselves with what they’re doing at hospitals, but there is a true sense of patriotism,” she said. “People are coming to work optimistic in the fact that they’re helping, in their own small way, American patients.”
South Carolina Launches COVID-19 Emergency Supply Portal to Connect Providers with Organizations in NeedSouth Carolina launches portal to connect critical supplies with those who need them see more
SCMEP, South Carolina Hospital Association, SC Department of Commerce and SCBIO combine
to source critical medical supplies and get them to parties in need quickly
South Carolina – April 13, 2020 – A collaboration between SCMEP, the SC Hospital Association, the SC Department of Commerce and SCBIO has resulted in the expedited launch of a new online South Carolina Emergency Supply Collaborative web portal.
Located at www.SCCOVID19.org, the portal connects parties in need of essential supplies and equipment with those that can provide it in quickly and efficiently. It allows industry and community partners with the ability to quickly produce, source, test, certify or contribute critical medical supplies (such as face shields, gowns, ventilators and masks) to directly connect with the healthcare providers, first responders and members of industry in search of those essential supply needs in one easy step.
Manufacturers able to expand or pivot their production lines, suppliers and distributors with access to ready-made supplies, organizations able to donate supplies or personal protective equipment (PPE) can identify the supplies and equipment they can offer in the site’s central repository. Once quickly reviewed and vetted by a team from the collaborative, organizations in need of the materials will be digitally connected through the portal to secure their desired goods from providers directly.
The need for the portal was identified after members of the collaborative began individually fielding hundreds of calls from organizations in need of such supplies, said Chuck Spangler, President of the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP).
“Each of our respective organizations has strong and indelible positions as sources of information, connection and aid to our respective constituencies, so it was logical for those parties – whether hospitals or manufacturers, existing industry or life sciences organizations – to turn to us in time of need,” said Mr. Spangler. “After sharing among ourselves the flood of requests we were individually receiving and trying to manage, we determined that a combined approach would offer greatest value and efficiency for our state and its citizens, and the creation of the South Carolina COVID-19 Emergency Supply portal was quickly underway.”
The site identifies critical need items as evidenced by industry, healthcare, first responder and governmental audiences across the state, and allows organizations to quickly enter the type of goods they can provide or manufacture, quantities and production capacity, and supply chain needs or requirements. Once entered and vetted by the SCMEP team, inquiring parties seeking the goods will be connected to the providers through the portal. Organizations then conduct transactions and arrange and plan logistics directly.
“This is a joint effort to recruit community partners with ability to quickly source or provide needed medical supplies to support South Carolina’s COVID-19 response,” said Thornton Kirby, President and CEO of the SC Hospital Association. “South Carolina’s COVID-19 Emergency Supply website will save valuable time and effort in connecting those in need of goods with those who have them… at a time where every minute counts in saving lives and defeating this formidable virus.”
The COVID-19 Emergency Supply website will be updated constantly with new information and opportunities to support South Carolina emergency response efforts. It also links directly to individual websites of the four Collaborative partners, which each provide a host of resources, news, connections and relevant information for businesses and individuals.
“We are all in this together, and I am proud of the South Carolina business community’s continued response to serve our state during this unprecedented time,” said S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt. “The COVID-19 Emergency Supply Collaborative’s ability to connect manufacturers, suppliers and other organizations with the front-line medical personnel who need these critical items will serve as a valuable resource.”
Organizations and individuals can go online 24/7 to identify critical need items or to note what products they can provide or may need, said Sam Konduros, CEO of SCBIO. “We encourage every member of industry, if you have a product that is needed and which you can provide, produce, test, certify or donate, let us know that right now by completing the simple form on the site. And for organizations in need of such items, let us know that right away so that we can get connect you with parties who can help right now.”
Visit the new site at https://sccovid19.org/