Company says expansion will shore up US medical supply chain

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — 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.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster planned to be on-hand Thursday for Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. CEO Lou Kennedy’s announcement of Nephron Nitrile, which will produce medical-grade nitrile gloves at the company’s facilities in Lexington County.

Details of the effort were shared with The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement. According to Nephron, a new 400,000-square-foot facility will employ abut 250 people.

Kennedy and McMaster 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.

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.

With Nephron Nitrile, Kennedy said 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.

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.

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