Joseph Ruiz, president of biotechnology company Enzerna Biosciences, has dedicated more than three decades to a scientific career spanning academia and industry. One of the most important keys to Ruiz’s success – applying an entrepreneurial perspective to research – was introduced to him by his Ph.D. research mentor, who constantly looked for technology enhancements to help fellow researchers increase their efficiency.
“He came up with new techniques to simplify procedures,” Ruiz said. “He taught me that there is always a better way to do something.”
Ruiz recently joined The Graduate School’s CareerWell program as an executive in residence and member of the Advisory Committee. CareerWell helps graduate students prepare for the unprecedented workforce changes in the time of COVID-19 and beyond, offering a Graduate Certificate in Business Fundamentals and non-course opportunities with companies, nonprofits and government organizations.
Ruiz’s company has entered a collaborative, one-year partnership with CareerWell to support graduate student development at Carolina. This partnership will offer opportunities for graduate students to directly benefit from the expertise of Enzerna Biosciences’ leaders through composite mentoring activities and gain experience through interdisciplinary team projects designed jointly with the company.
Recently, five UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students, across diverse academic areas, kicked off an Enzerna team project focused on regulatory guidelines and approvals relating to Enzerna Biosciences’ emerging medical treatments.
“Graduate students in the lab tend to be very focused on their research project,” Ruiz said. “Once you go into business, you have to bring many disciplines together. In the gene therapy space, for example, there’s business, public policy, science, ethics, marketing and patient advocacy. All of these things have to work together to get a product to the clinic.”
Ruiz is serving as a mentor to the students selected for the Enzerna project and, as his role as a CareerWell executive in residence further develops, other graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill who are seeking to expand their business skills.
“Dr. Ruiz is strongly committed to preparing graduate students to be successful in their future careers,” said Jason Cramer, director of experiential professional development at The Graduate School. “We are thrilled to partner with him and Enzerna Biosciences to facilitate these experiences, which will offer tremendous value to Carolina graduate students as they transition from UNC-Chapel Hill to the workplace.”
Enzerna Biosciences is developing gene therapies for rare diseases such as myotonic dystrophy and Huntington’s disease. The company’s overall goals, Ruiz said, are to develop long-term disease modifying gene therapies that can be administered before patients begin to experience symptoms.
Ruiz received his doctoral degree in biology from the University of California, San Diego and conducted postdoctoral work at Columbia and Harvard universities.
He held faculty positions at the Indiana University School of Medicine and at the Wistar Institute and has directed scientific development at several biotech startup companies. He also founded Emerging Biotechnology Development Services, a consulting practice that guides entrepreneurs’ efforts to establish research operations and secure grant funding for their emerging startup ventures.