Investing in startups in the Upstate is a great way to expand the number of headquarters here, says Wayne Roper, president of the SCBIO.
“Any company headquartered in South Carolina has a much greater multiplier effect on the economy than other companies because they hire professional engineers, accountants and lawyers, and profits are invested in your state,” he says. “That’s why seed money is so important. You can’t tell which companies will be the breakout success. It’s a combination of timing and management expertise, so you need to create a lot of startups, doing your very best to see that they’re trained and mentored and have a lot of support.”
One local and very promising biotech startup is KIYATEC, the first tenant in Greenville Health System’s Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR). The company launched in 2011, around the same time SCBIO transitioned from being an all-volunteer organization into a professional organization.
KIYATEC is growing, attracting scientists from across the country, and appears to be on the precipice of something big because its technology could expand across the globe, in many areas of medicine and a variety of investigational pharmaceutical applications. For instance, KIYATEC has new contracts with pharmaceutical companies, which will use its novel technology of growing cells that can more accurately mimic the way cells behave in the body, to gain more information about drugs in development, says Matt Gevaert, KIYATEC’s founder.
“We have a value proposition that the world needs,” Gevaert says. “We can start to receive patient samples from across the country and we can expand into other cities and regions, but Greenville is the mothership right now.”
Gevaert is a good example of how South Carolina’s universities are incubators for future entrepreneurs, who could help the state retain successful jobs and industries. He moved from Canada to the Upstate to earn a master’s degree at Clemson University, and stayed to earn a doctorate in biomedical engineering. While working on his graduate degrees, he had four inventions and worked with the university’s technology transfer office. This experience led to his becoming a technology commercialization officer for the Clemson University Research Foundation. Eventually, he started his own life science company.
KIYATEC has patents on technology that should give oncologists and cancer patients a more accurate and efficient way to predict the best cancer treatment. Its goal is to solve the problem of cancer patients taking drugs that work poorly until the right combination is discovered through trial and error.
“They may get a drug, take it for a few weeks and then come to find out their cancer has progressed or gotten worse, and they’re having side effects,” Gevaert says. “That’s not good for the patient, but it’s the best we can do right now because there’s no way today to viably know in advance if someone is going to be a responder to that drug.”
But thanks to KIYATEC that could change. The firm is testing cancer cells in experiments with various cancer drugs. “We’re doing it in a way that predicts what the cells inside a patient will do, so we then circumvent the nonresponse scenario,” Gevaert explains.
Their process is superior to growing cells in a petri dish, the method scientists have used for more than 60 years, Gevaert says. The process is largely inaccurate because the environment is so unnatural. “It’s like making a glass floor, putting a camera underneath it and watching what people do. But then you make the people lie down on the floor and move around like starfish,” he explains. “This wouldn’t give you a good measure of how people behave.”
Instead, KIYATEC puts cells in a more natural environment, and — like its potential to stir up the local life science industry and economy — just lets the magic happen.
SCBIO Annual Conference
What: SCBIO’s annual life science community conference
When: Nov. 10-11, 2016
Where: Westin Poinsett Hotel in Greenville
Registration: $250 for members; $324 for non-members; $125 for students;
Speakers: Dr. Christopher Austin, director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NIH; Robert “Bobby” Hitt III, secretary, S.C. commerce secretary; Scott Weiner, partner, Pappas Ventures; and Bruce Haynes, co-founder, Purple Strategies
The life science industry’s S.C. impact
$1 billion = direct impact
$2.3 billion = indirect impact
40% of life sciences companies are in the Upstate
$65,685 average annual wage
122 medical device companies
65 pharmaceutical companies
528 testing, research and diagnostic companies
557 bio-related companies
Source: TEConomy/BIO report 2016
Successful life science industry startups in Upstate
* ChartSpan – $3M investment, plus 300 jobs
* KIYATEC – $2M in NIH funding for cancer research
* CreatiVasc – acquired for $5M by Brookhaven Medical
* VidiStar – 18 jobs and $1.23M pumped into Greenville economy annually
* Purilogics – more than $200K in federal, local grants/investments
In the formula
These organizations are some of the state’s collaborators in growing the life science industry:
– NEXT, a Greenville Chamber program
– Harbor Accelerator, Charleston
– USC Tech Accelerator, Columbia
– SCRA and SC Launch
– MUSC – Foundation for Research and Development
– MUSC, USC, Clemson universities
– S.C. Department of Commerce