Sponsored: How Northern Kentucky will excel in the life sciences industry

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This article was written by Kimberly Rossetti, vice president of economic development at Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.

In May, the State of Kentucky allocated $15 million for a 10,000-square-foot life sciences lab in Covington. Supporters said the funding would help catalyze the burgeoning life sciences sector in Northern Kentucky – one of the four industry clusters along with Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology and Supply Chain Management & Support Services recommended for future economic development efforts in Northern Kentucky.

Life sciences is not healthcare, though the relationship between the two is intimate. Whereas the healthcare industry is about doctors and nurses, hospitals and clinics, life sciences is rather broadly defined as involving “the protection and enhancement of human health.” Think pharmaceuticals development and production, medical device manufacturing, medical and diagnostic laboratories and scientific research.

The life sciences sector is largely driven by medical innovation, an area in which our region has a strong history. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center consistently ranks at or near the top of the best pediatric hospitals in the world and traces its roots to 1884; it teamed with the University of Cincinnati to develop the oral polio vaccine. The University of Cincinnati Medical School is the second oldest public college of medicine in the United States and developed Benadryl and the FAST method for identifying signs of a stroke.

Video provided by Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.

Northern Kentucky is building out its medical innovation resume. Clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines were carried out at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Students at Northern Kentucky University developed the PulsePoint Respond app, which is connected to 911 and can immediately inform users when there are cardiac emergencies occurring in their community; it has been deployed in more than 4,000 communities in North America. Bexion Pharmaceuticals in Covington has completed a multistate, first-in-human Phase 1 clinical trial. More than two million human tissue cancer non-cancer specimens are housed at the Biospecimen Repository at the Wood Hudson Cancer Research Laboratory in Newport. Gravity Diagnostics (Covington) is the largest COVID-19 test processor in Kentucky. 

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In all, there are more than 20 medical and pharmaceutical research labs, healthcare providers, laboratory equipment manufacturers and headquarters in Northern Kentucky. Here is a deeper look at some of them.

Bexion Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2006 and based in Covington, is a mid-stage clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing a new generation of biologic immunotherapy to treat solid tumor cancers and Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) with potential portfolio expansion opportunities in other cancers and broader neuropathic pain indications. It employs 25.

Gravity Diagnostics, based in Covington, is a state-of-the-art CAP Accredited and CLIA Certified laboratory licensed in all 50 states providing innovative laboratory testing in the areas of COVID-19, Upper Respiratory, Toxicology, Pharmacogenomics, Sexually Transmitted Infections, and Blood. Gravity currently serves more than 1,000 customers from small private practices to universities to Fortune 500 companies. It recently moved into a new, 77,000-square-foot space on Russell Street that is 1,000% larger than its former space and houses the bulk of Gravity’s 465 employees. Gravity was the region’s fastest-growing private company in 2021, with sales growing from $5 million in 2018 to $143.7 million in 2020. The firm expects to top $100 million again in 2022.

Ethos Laboratories was founded in 2010 and moved to a 30,000-square-foot facility in Newport in 2013. It is a CAP accredited, CLIA certified, high-complexity laboratory that specializes in clinical toxicology, pain biomarker testing, pharmacogenetics, serology, and COVID-19 testing. It employs 225 people, with 90 of them based in Newport.

CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services, headquartered in Covington, is a global research service provider now in its third decade. CTI specializes in supporting biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies advance clinical research programs involving critically ill patient populations. It is one of the largest companies of its kind in the world, with associates in more than 60 countries across six continents. CTI recently announced a $100 million joint venture with Cincinnati Children’s to form a company that will provide cell and gene therapy manufacturing services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

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Zeiss Vision Care is a technology company that produces and distributes optical products such as semiconductor manufacturing technology, medical technology, microscopy devices and camera lenses, in addition to its vision care segment. Last year, Zeiss opened its new U.S. headquarters in Hebron (it moved from San Diego), a $20 million investment that upgrades the company’s state-of-the-art optical laboratory and will create about 75 full-time jobs on top of its 400 person employee base.

ZEISS Vision Care opened a new, 2,500- square foot ZEISS Vision Center showroom and optical store concept at its new U.S. headquarters in Kentucky in 2021. Visitors can learn more about ZEISS’ contribution to optical innovation throughout history in a dedicated educational space. Photo provided by Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.

Celanese Corporation, a global chemical and specialty materials company, announced an expansion of its Florence research and development center last year with the addition of a Pharmaceutical Drug Delivery Feasibility Lab. The lab enables Celanese to accelerate customers’ development projects for long-acting delivery of small molecules, biologics and RNA. 

ABB Optical Group, a national provider of optical products and services for the eye care industry, recently opened a new laboratory, fabrication and distribution center in Erlanger. The facility will employ more than 60 people; the workforce is expected to reach 200.

For this growth to continue, a ready-supply of talent will be needed. Already, between 2014 and 2019, regional life sciences employment increased at nearly nine times the rate of growth nationally. In Northern Kentucky, specifically, Life sciences employment doubled from 2015-2019 and is projected to grow 30% from 2020-2025. The average annual salary in the sector for our region is $84,200, well above our overall average salary of $55,200. Although Northern Kentucky has a surplus of approximately 3,000 healthcare workers, most are employed outside the region.

The College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University is helping fill this pipeline. Its Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics combines the operational, legal and financial aspects of the healthcare industry with an understanding of big data and how the expanding size and scope of healthcare data is being analyzed, processed and presented to inform decision-making for improved health.

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They are not alone. Thomas More University (colleges of Arts & Science and Education & Human Service), Gateway Community & Technical College (health sciences technology and medical assisting), the University of Cincinnati (colleges of Arts & Sciences, Engineering and Applied Science and Medicine), Xavier (College of Arts & Sciences) and Mount Saint Joseph University (School of Behavioral & Natural Sciences) are all producing hundreds of healthcare-related graduates each year. 

Wood Hudson Cancer Research Laboratory, Inc. – an independent, not-for-profit research institute based in Newport – counts training and hands-on research for undergraduate students among its three focus areas. Since 1982, Wood Hudson’s Undergraduate Research Education Program (UREP) has trained nearly 350 students in the cancer research field. 

The life sciences industry holds great promise – both for the future of healthcare and for economic growth in our region. Northern Kentucky has the pedigree to compete, a solid roster of companies from which to build and the talent to power them. Expect to hear much more about this sector in the coming months and years.

 To learn more about Tri-ED, visit www.NorthernKentuckyUSA.com or follow these accounts on social media: @NKY_EconDev (Twitter), Northern Kentucky Tri-ED on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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