Growing Biotechnology Assets and Innovation in Southeastern North Carolina by Heather McWhorter

This article was done by Justin T. Streley, MBA, Director of the UNCW Office of Innovation and Commercialization, and Randall Johnson, MBA, Executive Director of the Southeast Office of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center


When was the last time you visited the biotechnology sector in Wilmington? There has been a lack of impressive stories in the headlines lately, but let’s dive deeper into the current and new opportunities of this regionally influential cluster.

Quality Chemical Labs (QCL) is experiencing tremendous growth, recently announcing an additional facility to expand its contract chemical services. By doubling its territory by the end of 2022 to a total of 180,000 square feet, QCL creates jobs and expands current opportunities for new and existing customers, delivering growth for years to come.

QCL is not alone. Alcami Corp. continues to expand its presence in Wilmington by expanding its local headquarters by $ 2 million. Local investment adds opportunities, infrastructure and, most importantly, jobs.

Late last year Cygnus Technologies, Inc. announced the move to Leland to support its further development in biotherapy. The $ 10 million facility will house 50 current employees, and another 150 can be increased in the next five years.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc. recently completed the acquisition of PPD from Wilmington as part of a $ 17.4 billion deal, making it one of the largest sales in the region’s history. PPD began in 1985 and has grown to more than 26,000 employees worldwide, of whom about 1,800 were locally located at the time of the acquisition. PPD has also helped consolidate Cape Fear as a cluster of contract research industry with dozens of complementary organizations in the area.

In search of a junction in the thriving biotechnology sector in Wilmington you will find graduates of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). UNCW is growing slightly, surpassing 18,000 students this academic year and leading the UNC system in terms of entrant growth over the past 10 years. Graduate students have been particularly strong, increasing by 94% over the past 5 years. This gives little relief to these companies, which will soon have hundreds if not thousands of jobs.

Enrollment is not the only UNCW growth associated with this industry. The University is expanding its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs, adding a new PhD program in Pharmaceutical Chemistry for careers in drug discovery and development, working with the University of North Carolina (NCSU) to create the National Science Foundation (NSF) ). ) The I-Corps program also continues the trend of strong employees, including Dr. Kenneth M. Khalanich to head the Center for Marine Science, and Dr. R. Thomas Williamson to oversee pharmaceutical chemistry, adding impressive researchers who are already working.

These additions complement strong assets, including the MARBIONC facility, which provides technology commercialization through synergistic relationships with numerous university, commercial, and government agencies. The new tenant of MARBIONC Portrett Pharmaceuticals uses this model of collaboration, and in the near future even more partnership.

The leader in promoting the growth of biotechnology in our region is the South East Office of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Wilmington. After the Southeast office successfully launched the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge in Wilmington in 2020, NC Biotech is now deploying the challenge across North Carolina with challenges in each of the five regions and a new round of statewide challenges that provides a number of benefits including cash rewards, mentoring, opportunities for the entrepreneurial platform and other benefits for entrepreneurs in the early stages of biotechnology. NC BIONEER is expanding NC Biotech’s leadership position in North Carolina’s economic development by adding robust offerings in innovation, finance, activities, education, economic development and more.

UNCW and NC Biotech have recently joined other partners across the country in an ambitious biotechnology-focused proposal to participate in the $ 1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge Regional Development Agency competition to provide transformational investment to develop and strengthen regional while maintaining fair economic growth, job creation. , and enhancing sustainable competitiveness.

A successful $ 500,000 bid in Phase 1 entitled “Accelerating Life Science to Build Economic Sustainability and Promote Justice in North Carolina’s Troubled Communities” focused on the bioproduction workforce, recognized the team as one of sixty national finalists and qualified them for in competitions. Phase 2 with awards ranging from $ 25 million to $ 100 million. If successful, the region will benefit directly through the South East Oriental Biopharmaceutical Training and Innovation Center.

The project will help develop a talent pool to support a growing cluster of industrial production of biopharmaceuticals in the south-eastern part of the Northern Kingdom with more geographical and racial, highly skilled professionals.

Biotechnology is a strong economic driver in southeastern North Carolina and will continue to be a sector of focus, investment, collaboration and impact, driving significant growth in our region for years to come.


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