COLUMBIA, SC — Nephron Pharmaceuticals opened Wednesday for business in Cayce, christening a gleaming facility and grounds where the company could approach sterile drug production by the end of the year, officials said.
“That’s superfast,” said Lou Kennedy, Nephron president and CEO. “We have a certificate of occupancy. We’re open for business.”
The well-windowed, 408,000-square-foot glass and stone building – with large-scale sterile manufacturing capability, a roof-top garden for dining and manicured landscaping fit for golf – rose from the dust in Saxe Gotha Industrial Park in just more than two years, Kennedy said.
Going in, contractors predicted construction would require three years, she said.
The next big milestone for the plant involves a couple of site visits by the Federal Drug Administration, hopefully this summer, Kennedy said, followed by a submission to the agency by the end of the year for approval of their first drug. After that, Nephron would await FDA approval and a green light to start production.
“We hope to use the momentum that’s been created over the last two years to transform the pharmaceutical industry in South Carolina,” Kennedy said. “Finishing this facility and becoming operational is the first step in doing so.”
The first drug Nephron will seek to produce in its Cayce plant is one the company already produces at its Orlando, Fla., headquarters offices – a combination of ipratropium bromide and albuterol sulfate, known as “duo dose,” used to treat asthma and emphysema.
Nephron specializes in blow-fill-seal manufacturing, a technology that allows a vial of medication to be formed, filled and sealed in a continuous process without human intervention and in a sterile, enclosed area, according to the company’s website.
From the time Nephron broke ground in February 2012 until now, the company has hired 100 people, Kennedy said, and as a product line comes into manufacturing in the plant, employment will increase as required until four full shifts are operational.
Nephron projected hiring 700 people over 10 years in its initial calculations, but said in February 2013 it likely would “blow through” those estimates within a few years of startup of the $313 million plant, which could encase 1.2 million square feet when complete.
Kennedy said in that February 2013 update it could take 250 to 400 employees to get the plant open. Potential new Nephron product lines, including eyedrop medication, sterile injectable drugs and cancer-fighting drugs, could boost the number of production lines needed in the plant from four to eight, Kennedy also said.
Still, Kennedy and her husband, Bill, a pharmacist, both were “breathing freely” Wednesday as a result of the plant opening, Kennedy said.
A large crowd from the community, including state and federal government leaders, and business and university leaders turned out for the ribbon cutting, many of them saying Nephron’s presence takes South Carolina to a new level.
“Everybody knows we build airplanes,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “Everybody knows we build cars. Everybody knows we build tires. ... Now, everybody knows we make pharmaceuticals. And not just any pharmaceuticals. You’re looking at the Taj Mahal.”
Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398. Twitter: @RoddieBurris