A Bright Future for South Carolina's Life Sciences
Monday, August 10th, 2020
Comprised of over 600 life sciences firms in 43 counties, with wages nearly double the state average and an annual economic impact that exceeds $12 billion, the South Carolina Life Sciences Industry has become a powerful force in the Palmetto State’s economy. It is the fastest growing segment of the state’s innovation economy and shows no signs of slowing down, even amid a global pandemic that has significantly increased public awareness of this vital sector.
Life Sciences’ six major segments include pharmaceuticals/biotech (from Nephron Pharmaceuticals to Thorne to Thermo Fisher Scientific), medical devices/medtech (from Abbott to Arthrex to AVX), Health IT/digital health (including Greenville’s ChartSpan), research-testing-diagnostics-labs (from Greenwood Genetics Center to Precision Genetics to Vikor Scientific), bioscience distribution (including Greenville-based SoftBox), and even Bio-Ag, with every sector well-represented throughout the Upstate and South Carolina.
What makes the industry even more compelling as a significant knowledge economy diversifier for SC is that it averages triple the R&D expenditure of all other industries, and is highly recession resistant due to being so intertwined with the larger healthcare industry. In fact, the approximately $8 trillion in annual global healthcare spending is supported by a roughly $1.5 trillion life sciences industry—with the United States responsible for almost half of the world’s innovations in this dynamic industry.
To help the Palmetto State achieve its goal of becoming a significant player within life sciences, SCBIO was dramatically restructured and refocused three years ago—with economic development the new focal point for the state’s lead life sciences organization and public/private industry association. Providing high-impact support for existing industry, working with economic development organization partners to recruit leading-edge global life sciences companies here, and developing strategies to grow our own Palmetto State life science companies has had a seismic impact on the culture of the organization and its stakeholders—and has helped usher in a new era ripe with opportunities. Alignment of SCBIO with the SC Department of Commerce was a game-changer that helped enable the association to triple revenue in three years; develop a full-time multidisciplinary executive team; and cultivate an extraordinary board of directors comprised of industry, academia, healthcare, core service providers, and economic development partners.
As part of SCBIO’s agreement with the SC Department of Commerce, the organization was charged with creating the state’s first ever SC Life Sciences Strategic Plan—a plan now moving into its third iteration as South Carolina continues to refine strategies to build a nationally competitive ecosystem to sustainably support the industry in our state. Stakeholders and subject matter experts from across the state have contributed to the plan, which serves as a roadmap to the future for how the Palmetto State can become one of America’s most desired destinations for life sciences.
And despite the challenges faced by every industry in the face of the global pandemic, SC’s life science companies have literally been on the front lines in the battle with COVID, providing everything from COVID-19 PCR test kits to antibody tests to respiratory therapies to face shields, fueled by a wide variety of firms that stepped up—or pivoted—to meet vital needs created by the Coronavirus. As South Carolina works hard to safely reopen our economy while still challenged by a highly active virus, life sciences will be a major contributor to the state’s economic recovery—with unprecedented opportunities to onshore and repatriate drugs, medical devices, and all manner of PPE. These are some of the silver linings in the midst of this national public health crisis that create a foundation for optimism as life sciences emerges as one of the state’s strongest economic pillars for decades to come.