Editor's note: This story has been updated with detail from today's news conference.
West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceutical Corp. is launching Nephron Nitrile, a new company that will produce three billion nitrile gloves in its first year of operation at its Saxe-Gotha Industrial Park facility.
The gloves, a crucial piece of the PPE needed by medical, health care and other industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be manufactured in the newly completed Kennedy Innovation Complex, part of Nephron’s $215.8 million expansion at its Lexington County headquarters.
Nephron is teaming up with CeramTec, a global ceramic and medical technology company with North American headquarters in Laurens, to produce the gloves. CeramTec makes the forms used in molding the gloves.
Nephron owner and CEO Lou Kennedy, whose company faced supply chain issues in getting the PPE it needed to operate at the height of the pandemic, said Nephron Nitrile will help onshore future production, not just in America, but specifically in South Carolina.
“Here you have two South Carolina companies joining forces to create PPE statewide, just the exact way that (Sen.) Lindsey Graham talked about in his press conference from the Nephron lobby last year,” Kennedy told the Columbia Regional Business Report. “I am so proud of this.”
During a news conference today announcing Nephron Nitrile, Kennedy said the new business, which represents an investment of more than $100 million, is expected to create 250 jobs.
"This sends a signal to the nation and the world that South Carolina can be ground zero for the effort to onshore domestic manufacturing of PPE," Kennedy said. "We can do this."
Kennedy said her company has also entered into technology sharing agreements with leading South Korean nitrile glove manufacturers and is in discussions with the University of South Carolina and Clemson University to explore synthesizing nitrile, an organic compound.
Nitrile rubber is a nitrile-containing polymer used to make latex-free medical and laboratory gloves. Nephron Nitrile will begin producing the medical-grade gloves by early 2022, according to a news release from the company.
“If we can make the nitrile right here, then we would be 100% all U.S.-created,” Kennedy said.
Nephron produces and manufactures generic inhalation solutions and pre-filled, sterile syringes through its 503B Outsourcing Facility.
Its CLIA-certified lab, which conducted COVID-19 testing for its employees and workers at neighboring businesses, ran low on PPE as the pandemic disrupted global supply chains last spring.
Today, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster echoed Kennedy's message that onshoring PPE production will help reduce reliance on foreign manufacturers and distributors.
"Investment in this kind of business is something that's vital to our future and our national security," McMaster said. "It's a great step forward."
Nephron also aimed to address such concerns through its expansion, which is expected to create 380 jobs and which includes a 110,000-square-foot vaccine production, chemotherapy and antibiotic wing, increased storage and production capacity. Original plans called for Lou and husband and Nephron founder Bill Kennedy to operate two side businesses out of a section of the 240,000-square-foot Kennedy Innovation Center while marketing most of the space to state and county startups.
The entire building will now house Nephron Nitrile and its 34 production lines, Kennedy said.
“The U.S. market is 60% of the worldwide glove market,” Kennedy said. “The VA (Veterans Administration) alone uses 11 billion a year. Our little three billion is just a small amount, but it’s a small amount that you can buy with the best quality on U.S. soil right here in South Carolina.”