GlobalScot Interview With Jim Ellis

James Ellis

PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, Nocion Therapeutics

Jim has been CSO at Nocion since July 2018. He has over 20 years leadership experience in drug discovery in multiple therapeutic areas, working in organizations from biotech startups to large pharma. Most recently, Jim led GSK’s Innovation Hub in Cambridge after serving as Vice President and Head of GSK’s Sirtuin Discovery Performance Unit.

Prior to GSK, Jim was Vice President of Research for Surface Logix and the Executive Project Director and Chief Biology Advisor for NitroMed. Previously, Jim was the Group Director, Allergy & Respiratory Disease and Senior Director of Pharmacology at UCB Pharma where he was responsible for UCB’s global allergy and respiratory franchise research pipeline.

Prior to joining industry, Jim was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, where he also did his post-doctoral research. Jim received his B.Sc. in Pharmacology from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and his Ph.D. in Neurobiology from University College London.

Jim Ellis


Q: Where are you from in Scotland?
A: I was born in Belfast to Scottish parents and grew up in the Middle East and went to Boarding School (Morrison’s Academy) in Crieff for ten years before studying Pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen.

Q: Can you share what event brought you to the U.S. and how long you have been here?
A: I first came out for a summer job at a Biotech in Baltimore while I was still an undergraduate and fell in love with the US and moved here full time after completing my PhD in 1989.

Q: What do you most miss about Scotland? Anything that you have not been able to replicate in the U.S.?
A: I miss two main things, the first being the people and the second being the countryside particularly the Highlands and Islands. The first is probably impossible to replicate with exception of getting together with a few other expatriates. For the second I very much enjoying hiking in the White Mountains and also being on the coast in Maine where we have recently bought a small cottage, but I look forward to every opportunity to get back to Scotland to enjoy friends in great surroundings.


Q: Could you expand on your current role and why you enjoy it?
A: I am the Chief Scientific Officer at a small private Biotech developing new therapeutics for chronic cough, pain and neuroinflammatory conditions like Atopic Dermatitis and Ulcerative Colitis. I love the challenge of Drug Discovery, for me there is nothing harder and more rewarding than taking a new therapeutic from an idea to something tangible in the lab setting into clinical trials hopefully through to the Holy Grail of a new treatment that provides benefit to patients.

Q: Did you choose New England or did it choose you?
A: It’s a bit 50:50. I applied for a Biotech position in Boston back in 1996 knowing that it was one of the most livable and European cities in North America. However, Boston was just beginning its ascent into becoming the BioPharma capital of the World and so it sort of chose me as well.

Q: Looking back in time, are there any decisions you made that in hindsight you now view as defining moments in your career?
A: The biggest one was sending the equivalent of cold call letters to a number of companies for a summer job in the States. I was fortunate that the Head of Research at one was a fellow Scot or my life could have been very different. The other was deciding at the last minute to go out to my local pub in Baltimore on Hogmanay where I met my wife over 30 years ago!

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to entrepreneurs in Scotland contemplating establishing a business in New England?
A: Reach out to anybody in your Network who lives or works here to get information and to be a sounding board for what you are planning. Use organizations like the GlobalScots and SDI to help make introductions for you.

Q: What message would you give to New Englanders thinking of expanding into Europe?
A: I would do the reverse of the advice above. Use your Network and also reach out to groups allied with your country of interest to help you.

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