By James Chappell, CEO & President, SCBIO
Hardly recognized a handful of years ago as an emerging industry, today’s South Carolina’s life sciences industry is booming. In fact, it is the fastest-growing industry in the entire Palmetto State.
Life sciences is a diverse industry, with seven primary sectors: drugs and pharmaceuticals; medical devices and equipment; health IT; research, medical and testing laboratories; bioscience distribution; bio-agriculture and ecosystem support. All segments are well-represented in our state, and all are growing rapidly, propelling the industry to the top tier of the state economy – with faster growth since 2017 than more expected industries like automotive, tires, or aerospace, notes James Chappell, CEO of SCBIO — a nonprofit dedicated to building, advancing and growing life sciences here.
A January 2022 study by USC’s Moore School of Business showed 1,030 life science companies in South Carolina – compared to just over 400 in 2017. It employs over 87,000 South Carolinians and generates $25.7 billion in impact, with annual employment growth averaging 2.7 percent since 2010. Its average salary exceeded $87,300 — far above other industries. And importantly, all of South Carolina benefits, with organizations in 42 of 46 counties – including every county of the Upstate.
Even during the recent pandemic, South Carolina life sciences flourished – and many industry organizations here in the Upstate played significant roles in helping to defeat the COVID virus. Home to distinguished medical device, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies – including Bausch & Lomb, Abbott, IVC, Diversified Medical Healthcare, KIYATEC, and many more — the Upstate has become an epicenter for the sector.
During COVID-19, as international supply chains faltered, local life science companies created solutions as market demand intensified – driving new innovation. Industry leaders attribute the sector’s rapid mobilization to public-private relationships developed and initiatives. Across the Upstate, organizations like Rymedi, Precision Genetics, Velocity Clinical Research, Abbott, and SoftBox Systems stepped up.
Rymedi developed technology to rapidly test and report Clemson student infection rates, allowing the university to optimize operations while protecting students and faculty. Precision Genetics became a COVID-19 test processing center for some of the state’s largest hospital systems. Velocity Clinical Research was the only Upstate provider for Moderna’s vaccine trial. Abbott launched a point-of-care test to detect positive COVID-19 infections in 5 minutes — not 5 days. And SoftBox Systems developed temperature-controlled shipping cases to get Pfizer’s precious vaccines across the state… and around the world.
Before COVID, life sciences were emerging as a force in our economy. Now, its day has dawned.
Today, SCBIO initiatives focus on building the industry and accelerating its growth. This is achieved by convening industry leaders, adding workforce recruitment and training programs, accelerating innovation, advocating for the industry, encouraging capital investment, and developing talent.
“The workforce talent pipeline is very strong as we continue to see exceptional talent, diversity, and demand for degree programs in life sciences,” noted Dr. Cynthia Young, Dean of Clemson University’s College of Science. “As we prepare the next generation of scientists and healthcare professionals, this robust talent pipeline will continue to fuel our life sciences ecosystem.”
Life sciences growth thrives in areas with manufacturing expertise, research resources, an innovation ecosystem, and quality healthcare. On these, the Palmetto State matches up well with many states. In other areas, like access to venture capital, we are playing catch-up.
South Carolina has long been recognized as a top state for precision manufacturing, essential to producers of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and medical products. Such products require meticulous attention to detail and a well-trained workforce, assets the state has a global reputation for.
Life sciences averages triple the research and development spending of other industries. And the Upstate features growing research and innovation hubs — by organizations like AVX, Abbott, Prisma Health, Greenwood Genetic Center, and Clemson, and through initiatives by groups like Furman University, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, and USC-Upstate’s Center for Innovation.
South Carolina also benefits from nationally recognized healthcare centers. From a Top 25 national organization like Prisma Health, plus USC Medical School-Greenville, Spartanburg Regional Health, VCOM, and MUSC, our industry has no shortage of quality healthcare groups to partner with.
Austin Shirley, VP of Commercial Operations for Diversified Medical Healthcare, recently cited a willingness to collaborate for the greater good as a hallmark of the state, noting that “Companies come here to grow and prosper. They see a great bioengineering program at Clemson, innovation and research at MUSC, investment, and advice from SCRA, grant education by 3Phase, and market insight from Upstate Alliance. SCBIO pulls it all together. It’s opportunity unfolding.”
Today, life sciences are booming across South Carolina. The future has never been brighter, and the Upstate plays a crucial role in paving the way to a healthier and brighter tomorrow for all.
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Dr. Chappell is CEO of SCBIO — a nonprofit organization dedicated to building, advancing, innovating, and growing life sciences in South Carolina. Learn more at www.scbio.org.