The life sciences industry is the fastest growing component of the state’s knowledge economy
By Sam Konduros, President & CEO, SCBIO
The economic future of South Carolina is being profoundly impacted by a rising industry sector that has unexpectedly achieved the distinction of becoming the fastest-growing component of the Palmetto State’s knowledge economy.
Not automotive, not aerospace, but life sciences—a huge and multifaceted trillion-dollar-plus global industry that averages almost triple the R&D of all others, comprised of multiple segments, including drugs and pharmaceuticals, medical devices and equipment, digital health solutions, research-testing-medical labs, bio-science distribution, bio-ag and other life sciences support organizations.
The pharmaceutical segment in the U.S. alone employs approximately 3.5 million people, which exceeds the population of many states. Meanwhile, the medtech and digital health segments also continue to ramp-up dramatically, fueled by innovation and disruptive global trends ranging from the transformation of healthcare delivery to the enormous impact of artificial intelligence.
According to SCBIO’s just released statewide S.C. Life Sciences Strategic Plan (Version 2.0 covering 2019-2021), an influx of new firms into the Palmetto State coupled with a comprehensive recount effort has surprisingly revealed that the number of life science companies with a presence in the Palmetto State has risen to more than 650—a figure which is over 200 more than were recognized in an initial economic impact study conducted approximately three years ago.
That foundational study funded by the state Department of Commerce and SCRA revealed an annual life sciences economic impact now conservatively approaching $12 billion, with more than 43,000 direct and indirect employees receiving wages almost double the state’s average, and an employment growth rate twice that of South Carolina as a whole. Perhaps even more compelling is the fact that life science entities are now present in 43 of 46 SC counties.
Established starring players in the Palmetto State’s rapidly evolving life sciences constellation such as Nephron Pharmaceuticals in West Columbia have grown from 400 employees to over 1,100 in the same time frame, with an accompanying capital investment close to $400 million dollars. Long-time South Carolina life science companies such as ZEUS Industrial Products in Orangeburg, Clemson University spin-out Poly-Med Inc., Sumter’s BD and Charleston’s Charles River Laboratories are achieving record employment numbers boosted by a growing global customer base.
Concurrently, new South Carolina biotech and medtech industry stars recently coming on line such as Thorne Research in Berkeley County and Arthrex in Anderson County have invested tens of millions of dollars in state-of-the-art facilities and are rapidly ramping up to projected employment levels in the hundreds.
Equally encouraging is the fact that scores of highly innovative early-stage life sciences companies like Charleston’s Firststring Research Inc.and Greenville’s Humimic Medical are becoming deeply rooted and committed to building their promising futures in South Carolina. This is a testament to the fact that a robust life sciences industry ecosystem is forming and maturing that not only supports larger scale advanced manufacturing operations, but can also foster and support innovative start-ups and early stage (pre-revenue) companies that must be uniquely bolstered in their early developmental years with a myriad of sophisticated resources, talent and funding sources in order to successfully enter the marketplace.
In years past, a multitude of promising, young South Carolina-born companies often left the state in order to obtain crucial funding and unique talent in more established bastions of life sciences such as Boston, the West Coast or even the nearby Research Triangle in North Carolina.
Gratefully, South Carolina is becoming a rising destination for both mature and early-stage life science companies that are fueled by all three of our major research universities and their extraordinary life sciences core competencies, renowned institutes such as the Greenwood Genetics Center, medical schools anchoring three major regions, the MUSC and Prisma Health science centers, and major healthcare providers.
They are also tapping into a growing bullpen of content experts in the Palmetto State ranging from experienced FDA navigators to reimbursement specialists to intellectual property attorneys and other highly specialized consultants
Based on the positive momentum of this burgeoning industry—which is virtually recession-proof and a huge diversification for South Carolina’s economy—hard-fought funding for SCBIO has reached a record high with new members joining forces with the organization on a weekly basis.
This crucial fuel is enabling unprecedented life sciences economic development strategies to be successfully mounted in the Palmetto State, including the active recruitment of a new generation of leading-edge life sciences companies into South Carolina from all over the world, in tandem and full alignment with vital state, regional and local partners—with recent economic development missions generating measurable results in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Dubai (UAE), and across the U.S.
To achieve SCBIO’s bold vision of building the nation’s most industry-friendly and innovative life sciences ecosystem and business environment to fuel a knowledge economy in South Carolina, there is much work to be done—and it will be an endless journey. And in some respects, the Palmetto State is still somewhat fledgling as a global player in this complex and ever-changing industry. However, South Carolina’s progress over the past decade has been nothing short of remarkable, and the opportunities are endless and unlimited.
Life sciences is now uniquely igniting and demonstrably contributing to a brilliant future for the state of South Carolina. Please stay tuned—the best is yet to come.