WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina-based pharmaceutical manufacturer is launching a $100 million expansion, something officials say is part of a broader effort to develop a domestic medical supply chain missing during months-long waits for imported medical materials during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It sends a signal to the nation and to the world that South Carolina is going to be ground zero for the effort to on-shore domestic manufacturing of PPE,” Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. CEO Lou Kennedy said in her official rollout of Nephron Nitrile, which will produce medical-grade nitrile gloves at the company’s facilities in Lexington County.
“We will not stop until South Carolina leads the way in PPE manufacturing for the entire country," she added.
Details were shared with The Associated Press ahead of the launch of the project, which will occupy a new 400,000-square-foot facility and employ about 250 people.
With Nephron Nitrile, Kennedy told AP she has secured partnerships with U.S. companies for raw materials, machinery and technology, efforts she said she hopes will bolster the domestic PPE supply chain by early 2022.
Kennedy and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, on-hand for Thursday's announcement, have pushed for a reduction in U.S. reliance on foreign-made personal protective equipment and medications, arguing that the development of domestic supplies would safeguard the U.S. from disruptions and delays as experienced in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, McMaster issued an executive order expanding recruitment efforts of pharmaceutical and medical supply manufacturers in South Carolina and directing agencies to prioritize buying medicines, medical devices and supplies made in the state.
On Thursday, the Republican governor referenced that push and applauded Nephron's growth efforts as part of the state's burgeoning manufacturing sector.
“This is what the future looks like,” McMaster said. “This is what success looks like, and Nephron is leading the way.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has also repeatedly called for a draw-down of U.S. reliance on China — where many medical supplies are manufactured — saying last year he wanted the U.S. response to COVID-19 to be “so overwhelming China will change its behavior.”
“We don’t want to ever have to rely on China or anyone else for our basic health care needs,” Graham said in April 2020, as he accepted a delivery of 1.5 million surgical masks from China.
Nephron already develops and produces generic inhalation solutions and suspension products, including some used to treat severe respiratory distress symptoms associated with COVID-19. The company also makes pre-filled sterile syringes and IV bags for hospitals across the U.S. and has its own diagnostics lab, where it conducts COVID-19 and administers vaccines.