As life sciences sector continues explosive growth, leaders look to next steps

Compliments of Upstate Business Journal

As the fastest-growing industry in South Carolina, life sciences companies form a critical center of gravity for innovation and talent attraction.

But now leaders within the industry are looking at ways to consolidate and expand that growth to make the state a national leader in the field.

Critical mass

The rapid growth of the life sciences sector has produced a wave of innovation, according to James Chappell, president and CEO of SCBio (short for South Carolina Biotechnology Innovation Organization), the state’s leading association for the advancement of life sciences business and technology.

This wave brought the number of life sciences companies in the state to more than 1,000, many of which are still in the early stages of growth. 

“The fascinating part about South Carolina right now is we have so many (life sciences companies) playing in different areas,” Chappell says. 

The cutting-edge work being done by so many of these companies touches on areas of health and medicine that the general public may never be aware of and probably don’t realize are being developed in their own backyard.

On the other hand, Greenville’s new downtown Innovation District serves as a powerful visual cue for the industry’s presence and growing importance to the area and the state.

“If that’s not a great physical signal of the growth of life sciences in the Upstate and South Carolina, I’m not sure what is,” Chappell says.

Anchored by Kiyatec’s 2 N. Main St. headquarters, the goal of the Innovation District is to serve as a hub for life sciences technology development.

Kiyatec is pioneering technology that models how cancer cells will respond to treatment, and Chappell says the company’s presence in the heart of Greenville is forming a critical mass of innovation and talent that is vital to the long-term success of the industry in the Palmetto State.

Maturing the ecosystem

While innovation plays a significant role in the impact of life sciences businesses in the state, attracting and retaining highly skilled talent may play an even larger role in the economic wellbeing of the state’s residents.

David Stefanich knows that all too well.

As founder and CEO of Rymedi, a company whose cloud-based disease testing and vaccine administration workflow management system is being deployed globally to track and eradicate diseases like hepatitis C, Stefanich sees expansion as a key factor in boosting talent recruitment and training, as well as capital investment.

Also located in downtown Greenville, Rymedi recruits people with similar talents to those needed by Kiyatec. Stefanich says devoting time and resources to attracting and retaining such talent is the next step in his industry’s growth.

“I need coders who have a background in life sciences,” he says. “That’s why I look at cross pollination between industries.”

Such highly skilled workers would be able to work at any number of tech companies within the life sciences sector and beyond. They would also be able to afford to live in a downtown whose vibrancy may have been what attracted them to the region in the first place.

Another piece of the puzzle in helping such companies consolidate and grow is capital.

According to NEXT CEO Eric Weissmann, the entrepreneurial environment in Greenville has a solid foundation in helping young companies get started but needs to cultivate the expertise and resources that will help those companies grow and thrive.

Access to capital is key for companies that are in the growth stage, Weissmann says, and while Greenville and the Upstate have attracted the attention of a growing number of investors, more are needed.

“We need more of that — we need capital,” Weismann says. “It’s not going to come just because we want it.”

Examples of Greenville’s life sciences innovators

  • ChartSpan — The company specializes in chronic care management systems that help connect chronically ill patients with healthcare services under a program administered by Medicare.
  • Kiyatec — The company has become a centerpiece of Greenville’s downtown Innovation District. The firm is pioneering advanced 3D modeling of cancer cells to better help physicians tailor treatments to individual patients.
  • Rymedi — Another firm that calls downtown home, Rymedi is becoming a global leader in disease tracking and vaccine administration. The company’s secure digital platform enables efficient workflow and data management across healthcare sectors.
  • Zylo Therapeutics — The company has developed a novel drug delivery technology that can be used with pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and agricultural compounds. The proprietary silica encapsulation technology, called Z-pods®, can be tailored to the compound being administered.

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