South Carolina’s the Best Place for Life Sciences. Here’s Why.

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There is no doubt that the South Carolina is emerging as a top life sciences hub in the United States. That was clearly evident at SCbio’s annual conference in Charleston that drew more than 500 people to celebrate the theme, “#TomorrowStartsHere.” 

Under the leadership of James Chappell, SCbio has done an incredible job of fostering an environment of innovation across the state. Startups and legacy life sciences companies, such as Kiyatec Inc. in Greenville, The Ritedose Corporation in Columbia, Abbott in Liberty, Nephron Pharmaceuticals in Columbia, Poly-Med, Inc. in Anderson and GE HealthCare in Florence are thriving in South Carolina. The state is also attracting new companies that choose to relocate their operations, such as Florida’s Erchonia Corporation, which was drawn to the burgeoning microhub in the City of Greenville, South Carolina. 

Over the past five years, the life sciences industry in South Carolina has grown more than 173%. The industry contributes more than $5 billion to the state’s economy. Those numbers are only going to improve. A large number of the state’s companies are still early-stage. As they mature, the companies will scale and their contributions will grow, not only economically but in the amazing scientific technology those companies are developing. 

South Carolina’s colleges and universities, such as Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) will also continue to spin out new companies to support home-grown research. At MUSC, which hosts the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, innovation is a mainstay. Within the past five years, more than 50 active companies have spun out of MUSC. Most of the companies are still in the early stages but the potential for growth is there. 

As a member of the SCbio Board of Directors, I’m excited about the future of South Carolina as a hub of innovation. With careful cultivation, the state could rank alongside big players like Boston and San Francisco as hotbeds of innovation. 

During the panel discussion “Growing a Successful Bio Industry,” Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, Esq., president and CEO of MassBio, pointed to the rapid growth her state has seen over the past two decades. O’Connell said when she started with MassBio 15 years ago, the organization only had 400 members. Now, MassBio boasts more than 1,600 member organizations. The meteoric growth of the greater Boston area as an industry hub was fostered by a collaboration between industry, government and academia. That led to significant growth that outpaced all other industry sectors in Massachusetts, O’Connell said. 

O’Connell said that growth came about because MassBio fostered emerging biotech communities. Through the strength of those emerging communities, the state was able to attract larger companies to its ecosystem. Today, Boston ranks as the top hub for innovation in the United States. 

That formula can lead to a similar result in South Carolina. SCbio is already seeing the fruits from its efforts with more companies eying locations in the state. SCbio has also taken the lead in establishing academic programs within the community college system to train the workforce that will be needed to support planned growth. The organization established the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturing Pilot Certificate, a five-week course that provides industry training for manufacturing positions. 

SCbio also implemented the mobile video game Rad Lab that is designed to teach awareness of life sciences careers to South Carolina’s middle and high school-aged youth, particularly those who are in under-resourced communities. The game is geo-tagged, which means South Carolina youth who play the game gain familiarity with companies that operate within the state. 

South Carolina’s star is on the rise within life sciences. Home-grown innovation will open new pathways to treating diseases and improving the lives of people not only across the United States but across the world. SCbio is showing why South Carolina is one of the best places for science and why “Tomorrow Starts Here.” 

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