Post & Courier: SC pharma company continues expansion in Lexington County

December 22, 2021

COLUMBIA — Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ expansion is progressing as production gets underway on a spate of new business ventures — from at-home COVID-19 test kits to chemotherapy drugs.

Since 2020, the West Columbia drug maker has invested $215 million to build out its campus in Lexington County’s Saxe Gotha Industrial Park. In the past month, the company hired 1,500 new part-time workers as it ramps up production of new product lines, CEO Lou Kennedy said, bringing it to 1,200 full-time employees and 2,500 part-timers.

The hiring spree comes as Nephron produced 30 million doses of reagent for Abbott Laboratories’ at-home COVID-19 test kits last month and assembled about 1 million kits. Kennedy hopes to increase kit production to 2 million per month in January as demand for them has skyrocketed amid new variants of the deadly virus. 

“As we see that the new variants seem to be spreading and are very, very contagious, we know that we need to have more testing going on,” Kennedy said.

President Joe Biden announced plans Dec. 21 to provide 500 million free rapid testing kits as the omicron variant surges nationwide, shipping the hard-to-find kits straight to people’s homes.

In addition to testing for the virus, Kennedy said she’s finalizing a long-awaited proposal with one of the major COVID-19 vaccine makers to fill syringes in a new 200,000-square-foot warehouse on the Nephron campus. Kennedy first announced her desire to add a vaccine line in July 2020 in anticipation of demand, but she had yet to win a contract for production. 

Aside from its coronavirus-related work, Nephron also has installed equipment in a new 110,000-square-foot wing where it will begin making chemotherapy drugs and a number of antibiotics.

“I’m really excited about that move because it’ll allow us to get into those three drug categories,” Kennedy said.

Historically, Nephron has focused on generic respiratory medications and about 125 sterile drugs that are in high demand at hospitals across the country.

Finally, the company has finished putting the roof on a new nitrile medical glove plant.

The idea for the plant came after U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., toured Nephron in May 2020 touting his agenda to move production of pharmaceuticals and health care supplies back to the United States from overseas. Kennedy latched on to the suggestion, announcing Nephron Nitrile in July 2021.

The new facility, which will make 3 billion gloves annually, is expected to be complete by the end of first quarter of 2022.

“It is critical that South Carolina lead the charge in bringing the production of life-saving medications and supplies back home to the United States,” Gov. Henry McMaster said when the plant was announced.

Kennedy took it a step further to say Nephron will also make a portion of its own medical devices, items that it currently imports. She’s calling the spinoff Inject EZ.

“Right now we’re buying our syringes from either Switzerland and Germany,” she said. “We’re going to open our own company where we’re going to make our own syringes, rubber stoppers and plungers.”

“I’ve got a few other tricks up my sleeve,” Kennedy said. “We expect to announce some future expansion as soon as we’ve finished all of these projects.”

For now, Nephron is hiring another 500 to 1,000 part-time workers.