Dr. Seema Gupta holds a great passion for science and what it can do to improve our lives. Her desire to help others in any way she can led her to start Nanospeed Diagnostics along with her husband and business partner, but her trade, biotechnology, still has a great deal of progress to make before it can reach its full potential in Canada.
What first brought Gupta into the private sector was the local development of anti-cancer drugs; she helped develop one from scratch to phase one clinical trials, bringing them to a successful completion. Her background in biochemistry was in immunology and therapeutic drugs, which ties into her current business’ field of clinical diagnostics. “What I found was working in the biotech industry you require millions and millions of dollars,” she shares. “And working in that industry, I could see how difficult it was to bring the investments in.”
The demand for capital in clinical diagnostics was far more modest in comparison to therapeutic drugs, which led her to change over to the clinical diagnostics industry in order to be able to accomplish more. “Another thing is, the road from the starting step on the lab bench and then the time it takes to commercialize is way shorter for a diagnostic device,” Gupta states.
Despite diagnostics not being as glamorous as anti-cancer therapeutics, Gupta knew she would find fulfillment in accomplishing what she could on her own. “I have always wanted to do something in the medical field which can help the common man, and it gives me satisfaction if I can do a little bit which helps some people out there.”
Investments remain the largest challenge for the biotech industry, Gupta’s firm being no exception. “Alberta is more oil and gas,” she says. “I see not just my company but other biotech companies in Alberta struggling like I am here.” Without enough investment, products can’t go forward. But commercializing can help offset that burden.
Nanospeed’s product is a point-of-care test that gives results immediately, instead of needing requisitioning and a trip to a lab outside of the doctor’s office. Gupta sees a lot of potential for these kinds of tests in the future, but their development takes time. One product developed by Nanospeed is already in the market, but at the same time there’s a struggle on the manufacturing side. Gupta stresses a need for more infrastructure in Canada for biotechnology, in order to avoid overpaying for product development as well as the raw material supplies for her lab.
As for what’s kept her in the city despite the industry’s cash flow setbacks, it is that Edmonton is still a home to her after 22 years. “The biotech industry is not that huge, but it’s not tiny either,” Gupta explains. “People kind of know each other; people are helpful in the biotech industry here.” There are also good government funding programs for start-up industries, which offer the kind of help she and others like her in Alberta have needed to stay on top of things.
Gupta credits her husband and children for supporting her throughout her endeavors, which take up a lot of her time when there isn’t enough capital to hire employees. “If there is time, and more work, I walk into the lab. I help them out.” Gupta also expresses thanks to a late colleague and driving force of biotechnology in Alberta, Dr. Tony Noujaim, who had been a great inspiration to her.
She echoes her mentor’s advice: “Don’t give up. It’s a long road; it’s a lot of struggle.” She feels that confidence in yourself, and your ventures, is vital throughout whatever challenges you face. “If you give up, you’re gone.”
“I really love science,” Gupta states. “And I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s possible for me to do. Physically, I will be associated with science and I would love to help any new people who would like to walk into this field and if they need any suggestions, any help, I would really love to help those people out too.”