Across a career that has taken her from government to business to academia, the common thread for Ellen Purpus has been connecting research-driven discoveries with the realm of commercialization. Now, the former director of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Office of Technology Transfer has joined the University of Nevada, Reno as assistant vice president for enterprise and innovation in the Office of Research and Innovation.
"When I first visited, it became clear that UNR is really on the move and pushing to create an innovation ecosystem," Purpus said. "Entrepreneurial activities are a big part of this. The members of the search committee and University leadership were very committed to building this role; it left me feeling like a kid in a candy shop."
"A true innovation ecosystem is taking root in this region and the research and creativity of our faculty and students are at the heart of this," Mridul Gautam, University vice president research and innovation, said. "The energy behind this region's economic resurgence makes this an ideal time for someone of Ellen's talents and experience. We are fortunate to have her join our University and community."
Purpus, who started with the University in October, specializes in protection and commercialization of discoveries. She is a frequent speaker for the Association of University Technology Managers American Association and an active member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other organizations working to advance research and discoveries.
As assistant vice president for enterprise and innovation, she will oversee the development of enhanced enterprise and commercialization services on campus including technology-transfer functions such as patents, licensing, agreements, startups, spin-offs and corporate relations. Also reporting to Purpus are the director (open position) of the University's Innevation Center, Powered by Switch, and two directors of services located in the Innevation Center: Sandy Haslem, director of Nevada Industry Excellence, and Carlos Cardillo, director of Nevada Center for Applied Research. NVIE, a statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership hosted by the University, helps Nevada companies by providing resources to improve processes, efficiencies and productivity. NCAR is a stand-alone applied-research and technology center focused on making Nevada businesses internationally competitive by leveraging the laboratories and intellectual assets of the University.
"There are so many things we can be doing with the researchers and the community," Purpus said of the combination of responsibilities. "It's pretty remarkable."
Purpus earned her bachelor's degree in biology at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and her doctorate in pathology and cell biology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pa. She went on to complete a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship in experimental immunology at the National Cancer Institute and interned at the NIH Office of Technology Transfer in Bethesda, Md.
Her career progressed through roles at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where she was a business licensing associate; Indiana University in Bloomington where she was director of biotechnology and director of the Life Sciences Office of Technology Transfer; and The Ohio State University where her roles included director and interim associate vice president of the Office of Technology Licensing.
At the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Purpus provided leadership to the development of corporate sponsored research and clinical-trial agreements. She oversaw creation of the hospital's first startup and was integral to the hospital's participation in the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation network, a collaboration model created by Pfizer to bring together academic researchers and industry scientists to expedite the translation of biomedical discoveries into clinical treatments.
"To do tech transfer, which is the term of art, you have to focus internally and externally, and I've had some excellent mentors in my careers who have taught me this," she said. "You can't be insular.
"I'm very big picture oriented," she said of her work style. "My education and work experience are very broad; I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about many different environments and with people who bring different goals and motives. Along the way, I have always been in or involved in academia in some form. Understanding these diverse environments is something I bring to the University.
"I look forward to working with everyone, including students, to foster an innovation ecosystem," she said.
Purpus' appointment completes the reorganization of the Office of Research and Innovation senior leadership team, as announced by Gautam in March 2015. Charlene Hart, assistant vice president for research administration, oversees the offices of Environmental Health and Safety, Sponsored Projects, Human Research Protection, Lab Animal Medicine, Effort Reporting and Export Controls. Ana de Bettencourt-Dias was named associate vice president for research in May 2015 and is working with faculty to enhance extramural grant funding.