Purav Shah is currently working as a R&D scientist at TRM, Ireland after completing his MSc. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland (2020) with a First-class Honors and Distinction. A Bachelor of Pharmacy (2019) Gold Medalist from Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai India, he has been bestowed with J. B. Mody Award (2020), Best All-Star title at AAPM’s COVID-19 hackathon (2020), Prof. M. L. Schroff medal (2019) and BEST ABLE biotech-entrepreneurship prize (2018), to name a few, some elite scholarships, authored/ co-authored various research/ review/ newsletter/ book chapter and is actively involved in solving real-life industrial challenges. He has experience in research and tech-transfer within pharmaceutical domain in academia and industry, respectively. His hobbies include meditation and breath work, writing poems and sketching ‘Warli’ designs, cooking and going for walks.
It was our pleasure to interview Purav, a young passionate scientist with a journey worth reading about! He is an inspiration to all those students who have the drive to accomplish something big in our field. His mantra is to organize, prioritize and seize every opportunity. Are you ready to push your boundaries and test your limits?
You’re currently working as a full-time R&D scientist. Can you tell us your responsibilities?
Yes, I am currently working as a Scientist (R&D) at Thoroughbred Remedies Manufacturing (TRM) Ltd, Newbridge, Ireland which is Europe’s largest manufacturer and distributor of nutritional supplements and healthcare products for horses to maximize their athletic needs. Our products range from equine mobility enhancement to good bone, digestive, leg and respiratory health maintenance to taking care of their daily nutritional requirement. As a scientist, I must always be abreast with the latest in field which involves extensive scientific reading (which I love the most), thorough literature analysis, formulation development, their characterization and stability testing. Definitely, the selection of excipients, their limits and the processes involved need to comply with the various regulatory requirements and GLP/ GMP protocols. Once the work is validated at the laboratory level, I then scale it up to the pilot plant, making sure that critical material attributes and critical process parameters are identified and optimised which may affect the quality of the final product. After validation, I transfer the technology to the large-scale production level. Thus, my responsibilities circumvent all the actions required in bringing an idea from genesis to fruition.
What is OptiFlow? How did you come up with this, and what was your journey in developing the prototype and presenting it in MIT-COVID-19 Challenge-Beat The Pandemic event? You’ve worked part-time on an AI based COVID-19 diagnosis project. How did you get this opportunity?
While quenching my thirst to understand the pandemic in detail, somewhere around April 2020, I came across a 3 day, MIT-COVID-19 virtual hackathon on LinkedIn. Without any second thought, I decided to participate in the event. It involved continued online mentorship sessions, lectures, team formation and finally presenting our techno-business idea to the judges on the last day over slack channels. After several hours of discussion and brainstorming on day 1, we (team) came up with the idea of “OptiFlow” and started working on it for the next two days across various time zones (as our team members were from different parts of the world). Optiflow was a prototype optimization platform that made healthcare simple, fast, and integrated, mitigating exposure to COVID-19. Through the platform, we aimed to provide proactive provider-initiated consultations, optimised hospital visits with reduced wait times, and follow up care that is personalized and driven by reliable predictive analysis, especially for chronically ill, non-COVID patients.
After few months, I came across the American Association for Precision Medicine (AAPM) organised ACT2HACK COVID-19 hackathon with an aim to hack various COVID-19 data sets and develop various software solutions, in May 2020. I was one of the top 20% selected applicant for this event, after initial round of application evaluation. Our virtual team worked on developing an artificial intelligence based COVID-19 diagnosis method (using a mobile application) improving the ease of testing, reducing the test result wait-times and helping clinicians in the field of precision medicine. Our technical idea and business plan won us the title of “Best All Star” at the event. After this event, we decided to continue working on this project and develop it further. I started working as a research science liaison in the team, helping understand the science behind our work and effectively communicating it to public through whitepapers. I had an opportunity to collaborate and learn from experts in various domains including healthcare, IT, UI/UX developers, Data scientists, Web designers, Investors, Marketers and Financial managers. I continued with this work, until I returned to my university lab in mid-2020.
Can you briefly tell us about your Master’s thesis? What did you work on, how was the experience and how did your Undergraduate education prepare you?
For my MSc thesis, I worked on developing multifunctional nanodevices for delivering siRNA to treat Neovascular Age-related Macular Degeneration. This involved extensive laboratory work involving nanoparticle synthesis, surface modification, their characterization, loading them with siRNA, performing in-vitro release assays, cytotoxicity studies and gene silencing assay. While doing my research work, I got good hands on nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA)/dynamic light scattering (DLS), electrophoretic mobility measurements, nanodrop spectrophotometer, thermogravimetric analysis, aseptic cell culture studies and ELISA. Finally, I had an opportunity to present this work of mine at the United Kingdom & Ireland Controlled Release Society (UKICRS) organised international symposium in October 2020. Following that I was invited as a guest speaker at one of the pharmacy college in India to share my MSc research experience with their students.
My undergraduate training was a balanced exposure of conceptual knowledge and technique-based skill building lab work. I had opportunities to work on various research projects, industrial challenges, techno-business competitions, undergo industrial internships along with extensive scientific writing. All of these have helped me strengthen my scientific pathway, even while pursuing my MSc. A key lesson that I learned, and which still continues to help me, is the skill of ‘observation’. I strongly believe that a good researcher is the one who has good observation skills and the talent to interpret what he/she observes, regardless of hundreds of failed experiments.
At such a young age, you have bagged multiple awards, have published about 8 research/ review papers, book chapter and have such an extensive profile. How did you manage this and what inspired you?
To be honest, I had never thought of all these when I started with my bachelor’s in pharmacy in 2015. Timely, opportunities came in, I undertook them, giving my 100 percent to each one and they turned out into fruitful outcomes. At times, circumstance asked for multitasking. Sweat a bit, work with zeal, sincerity and dedication and believe me, success it at your doorstep. The other key element to master is the art of prioritizing things and managing your time efficiently. This is something that is not taught in lectures, but it develops through experience. It doesn’t matter how smart a person is, if you cannot organise yourself, you will always find yourself procrastinating the work that has to be done. These were the things that I had etched in my head and always strived to follow them.
Many people have inspired me to forge a path that I am passionate about. Alongside, rarely you would find someone, who gets inspired by one’s own self too, and very humbly I accept that I am one of them. My own capacities and limits inspire me to be a better version of myself daily. We all are at that stage of life now, where the competition should not be with the world, but should be with one’s own soul and spirits, learn something new, try something interesting today than what you knew or did yesterday. This is how one grows and create a successful future. A small phrase from a poem that I wrote in support to what I say:
परिश्रम है यह आजका, खुदको खुदसे बेहतर बनाने का,
तेरेही संघर्ष मैं है मौका, अपने भविष्य को सवारने का.
At Undergraduate level, how can students build their profile and gain experience beyond their coursework? Can you recommend any resources?
Firstly, the student should figure out what field interests him/ her the most (which I feel is a strenuous task to narrow down on one thing at UG level). If they are not able to understand that, it would be better to practically try different things and then identify what works the best. Well, this is what even I did. Inculcate the habit of good scientific reading by subscribing to good magazines like Pharma Express, Nature, Elsevier, Wiley newsletters and research papers, etc. Also, keep your eyes wide open to various events (like intercollegiate competitions, conferences, poster/ paper presentations, etc) happening at national and international levels including corporate competitions. This can be done by networking through LinkedIn and Twitter and also by signing up to the weekly/ monthly updates from various pharmaceutical/ biopharmaceutical (or any other) companies. Lastly, in order to gain some research experience (beyond regular coursework, if interested), undertaking summer internships in companies, working on small projects in a research group in the university by approaching professors or shadowing a senior research candidate would be some of the ideal ways. All of these, at the end of the day, does get counted highlighting the extra efforts you put in to learn something beyond the four walls of the classroom. The main aim should be to keep on feeding your brain cells with something new every day.
One of the goals of The BioTalk Magazine is to help students develop the skill of scientific writing. How important is scientific writing and has this skill helped you?
Yes, this is a vital skill in science and research and unfortunately something that many students lack. It is of equal importance (rather I consider it to be more important) for any researcher to be able to effectively showcase and communicate his/ her science as it is to know and understand about it. Scientific writing is one such way to accomplish this. It can be in the form of research papers, review papers, newsletters articles, posters and short abstracts. The style of writing, the language of communication and the format of narration are the aspects that need to change, depending on the type of scientific writing and the audience or reader that your piece is going to target. Let me explain this with an example. I would write “skin lighteners work by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme used in the conversion of L-tyrosine to L-DOPA in the human melanogenic pathway” for a hardcore scientific research/ review paper. However, this same sentence can be reframed as “skin lighteners block the activity of an enzyme tyrosinase, which under normal conditions lead to the formation of skin pigments, thus helping get a lighter skin tone” for a magazine/ newsletter which can be accessed even by a non-technical person. This habit develops and gets polished only through practice. Hence, it is very important to start with this right from the UG level.
Yes, this approach has definitely helped me, right from complex techno-business competitions where the judges/ panellists were not just scientists but also industrialists, investors, businessmen and entrepreneurs (who look out for good return of investments and huge turnovers), to scientific presentations at conferences, to delivering guest lectures for young students and to as simple as explaining the pros and cons of a medicine to a common man. Thus, scientific writing is much more than only knowing about science. It is more of the ability of EFFECTIVELY communicating it.
Lastly, where do you see yourself a few years from now? How can you help our scientific community grow?
The future does belong to those who see possibilities, before they become obvious, is the most basic tenet that I strongly believe in, as an upcoming researcher. With an interest in interconnecting the (bio)pharmaceutical science platform with strong chemistry foundation and understanding it at the molecular levels, I am striving towards mastering the skills of developing effective drug delivery systems for both, human and veterinary pharmaceutical markets globally. I always foresee my techno-economical aptitude being used in developing transformative pharmaceutical drug delivery methods which are economically feasible for industries and address the unmet needs of the global healthcare society. Thus, with a focused mindset, committed dedication, and a conviction for break-through, I have always envisioned and shall continue to work on developing my skills and ability which make cost-effective innovation reach the end-user, in the years to come.
Afterall, आरोग्यं परमं भाग्यं स्वास्थ्यं सर्वार्थसाधनम्॥
which means good health is the greatest blessing and is the means for everything.