Nephron Nitrile is one step closer to starting production of nitrile rubber gloves, an important component of personal protective equipment, in West Columbia.
Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. launched the glove company in July 2021 to help the effort to boost domestic production of critical PPE for U.S. health care workers.
Early Monday morning, the first glove production equipment from South Korea arrived at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The shipment included manufacturing lines and will help Nephron Nitrile begin production of the gloves within a few weeks.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and other state and local officials joined Nephron owner and CEO Lou Kennedy to celebrate the shipment’s arrival. Also present was a contingent of business leaders from South Korea, celebrating the country’s technology-sharing agreement with Nephron in getting the plant up and running.
Kennedy said the shipment marked a critical milestone for Nephron Nitrile.
“We are excited for the arrival of this critical equipment but more than that, we are grateful for the partnerships — from South Korea to South Carolina — that have allowed us to make efficient progress over the last year,” Kennedy said. “Now it is time to start making invaluable gloves right here in Lexington County.”
The equipment arrived on what airport officials said was one of the largest airplanes to ever land at CAE: a Boeing B747-8 air freighter flown by cargo specialist Atlas Air. The flight arrived in Columbia at 6:40 a.m. after having made the trip via the South Korean city of Incheon and Anchorage, Alaska.
Kennedy said the successful shipment was the result of collaboration from UPS and CAE officials who helped work out the logistics of bringing such a large plane into Columbia.
Nephron Nitrile will produce the gloves at the Kennedy Innovation Complex, Nephron’s facility in the Saxe Gotha Industrial Park.
Molding forms for the gloves are made by CeramTec, a ceramic and medical technology company with North American headquarters in Laurens.
Kennedy said the pandemic made her passionate about helping to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for PPE and other health equipment.
Nephron Pharmaceuticals 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.
Kennedy and other company officials decided to begin manufacturing nitrile gloves because the gloves were a universal need across many industries.
“At the height of the pandemic nobody had enough gloves — nurses, clinicians, food workers,” Kennedy said. “That’s when we decided we needed to do something to bolster the U.S. supply.”
The short supply of gloves also drove the prices up drastically, causing a box of gloves that regularly sold for only about $3 a box to go up to $30, Kennedy said.
Once Nephron Nitrile is up and running, the plant will produce an estimated three billion nitrile gloves a year.
Kennedy said the goal is to have the first line of gloves completed and ready for testing by the end of September, and then to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of November.