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Young Research Entrepreneur finalist of 2020 Prateek Singh develops an alternative for animal testing in drug research and development

Prateek Singh is an engineer and a biochemist with more than 14 years of research experience. He is the CEO and founder of Finnadvance, a company whose work can speed up drug and vaccine development and diminish the need for drug testing with animals.

What problem is Finnadvance solving?

“The coronavirus pandemic has showcased to the public that drug and vaccine development takes a lot of time. In more traditional cases, it can take more than 10 years for a vaccine to get developed.

A very common method of drug testing is to recreate human diseases on test animals. However, this is an expensive, slow, and unethical way of getting the drug out into the market and to the people who need it.

We are making platforms where we can take cells from a healthy or diseased patient and grow them in a way that they would inside the body. Then, because it’s a very small piece of tissue, we can have hundreds of tissues growing and use them as drug testing platforms – a library of tissues.”

What would be the desired outcome of your product?

“Lets say, there’s a COVID-19 outbreak. We would take the virus, put it in the library and understand how the virus would behave in different people from different demographics beforehand.

We envision that the end product will be a machine where you put the drug in and it tells you if it is going to work or not. This way, the need for animal studies can be greatly reduced, and the drug tests can be tested straight in a humanized model that allows even personalized drug development.”

What kind of research is Finnadvance based on?

“The idea for Finnadvance came together during the last 15 years of my studies in biotechnology, biochemistry and protein science. I had an idea that I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know if it would be a company or a research project. Eventually, I saw some gaps in the research field and I shifted to entrepreneurship.”

Prateek Singh

What similarities are there in being a researcher and entrepreneur?

“Perseverance is the biggest one. The research world getting your research out and published takes forever, you cannot give up. In entrepreneurship getting results might not take that long, but you’re often doing ten years of work in two years. 

You have to assume multiple roles and you cannot give up because of lack of capital and people to do certain things – learning is constant in both. After that the roads start to split.”

How can researchers benefit from commercializing their work?

“Generally speaking, most research is funded by public money. Researchers should strive to produce results and innovations, so that the money people have invested in it would be utilized in the best way possible.

This incentivizes both parties: First, it’s a feedback loop – the more money you put back into the economy, the more funds you will get for research. Second, by commercializing your work, you’re bringing out more competitors, which will drive the price down and increase availability of the service or product to the end users who need it.”

What advice would you give for researchers looking to commercialize their work?

“Try to find a way to talk about your research so that it doesn’t bore people. The public, who funds your work, should be able to understand what you’re trying to achieve. Understanding the difference between an idea and an innovation is key. Once the researcher has an idea, they should tell about it in a way that an innovation would sound like.

When you do public outreach, people ask very tough questions like ”why are you doing this” and ”how will it help me and my family.” Getting feedback from people who know nothing about your field is important. If you can sell your research to them, then you have a good chance of commercial success.”

What kind of plans do you have in store for Finnadvance?

“We are going to be a Finnish-based company for the foreseeable future, but we want to become the global technology providers for medical and bio companies in our field. We are currently looking to expand south of Finland, Netherlands and Germany. Japan would be the first market outside Europe we would like to enter.

We also help academic researchers in these fields to take their research to the next level and commercialize their work. We are already doing grant programs, which we will soon expand to be available for master, PhD, and senior researchers. We will give out strictly regulated grants without much administrative hurdles or the need to outline a budget, something with which I always had problems when applying.”

Finnadvance is a biotech startup, 15 people strong. It is building a ready-to-run modular platform for organotypic 3D cell and organoid culture and assay, with integrated data analysis. The company has attracted the attention of numerous investors and is a part of the national research consortium, funded by Business Finland.

Prateek Singh is a finalist for the Young Researcher Entrepreneur of 2020 award.