Q&A with Zhanna Boeva, Sensor Lead

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to a career in bio-engineering?
I am a chemist by training and I have been interested in natural sciences and technology for as long as I can remember. Chemistry was my favourite subject in school. For me, it has always been easy to understand, effortless to learn and most importantly, enjoyable.

I received my Ph.D. from M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University. It was here where I first worked on smart materials for various applications such as fuel cells and biosensors for detection of mutations in DNA, both for academia and for key global industrial players.

At the Laboratory of Polyelectrolytes and Biopolymers, M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, we looked for ways to improve the quality of people’s everyday lives, improving things such as drinking water, energy safety and medical equality. Later, I moved to Åbo Akademi University in Finland, to focus my research work on point-of-care sensors and biosensors. There, I gained expertise in analytical electrochemistry to complement my knowledge in materials science. At Åbo Akademi University we looked for cutting-edge materials and new engineering and detection methods in order to make sensors and biosensors more reliable and available for lay users. After several years in the field, moving to wearable biosensors for glucose monitoring became a natural step to continue my career as Sensor Lead at GlucoModicum.

2. Tell us about your day-to-day responsibilities and how your role as ‘Sensor Lead’ fits into GlucoModicum as a whole.
My job as Sensor Lead involves developing, improving, and integrating the glucose biosensor with our pioneering MHD technology. I lead a team of highly skilled professionals to fine tune the biosensor performance in order to make it accurate, reliable, safe to use and robust. We also work on productization of the biosensor to enable large-scale manufacturing of the product. My everyday responsibilities consist of planning my team’s R&D activities, discussing the results of work, ideating on biosensor implementation and testing these ideas and new approaches in the lab, as well as preparing documentation for product development. As the sensor research and development is integral to and interconnected with other functionalities of curating a medical device, the sensor team liaises with other functional teams allowing us to deliver important results quickly and at a high quality.

3. What interests you most about the continuous glucose monitoring space and what sets GlucoModicum apart from its key competitors?
My biggest interest in continuous glucose monitoring is to provide people with a reliable and affordable technology that can improve their quality of life painlessly and effortlessly. Research and development in wearable biosensors is a new and fast paced field, and it is very exciting to be a part of and to contribute to its development.

GlucoModicum has a unique technology for obtaining a high-quality sample of interstitial fluid from a patient’s skin; a paradigm shifting development of the kind we only see once in every 50 years. It requires applying a very small amount of energy, similar to that involved in making a phone call. The high-quality sample is a prerequisite for creating an accurate medical device using existing biosensor technology. All this, together with our strong patent portfolio, makes GlucoModicum very distinct from our key competitors.

4. You spent a lot of time in academia, what inspired you to move into the commercial sector and set up GlucoModicum?
I have always been interested in taking my knowledge and expertise and converting this into practical solutions.

During my time in academia, I was approached by some of the biggest global corporations to support them in finding break-through solutions to some of their R&D and productization challenges. In those projects I was able to apply an academic approach and, in parallel, deliver high impact corporate R&D projects in different parts of the world.

In those projects, and now at GlucoModicum, it is fascinating to be a part of the process by which we transform an idea into a commercial product.

5. What was the transition from academia to private sector like?
It definitely took courage to make the first step into the private sector, but after that the transition was very smooth and fruitful. At GlucoModicum we have a top-notch team with diverse backgrounds; many of them came from academia or have been related to it in one way or another. All of these factors meant that being part of the team at GlucoModicum did not differ that much from being part of a team of researchers in academia. United in the same goal, the GlucoModicum team is very supportive and fun to work with.

I would say that the main difference between working in the private sector and academia is that the private sector has more resources available in terms of manpower and equipment. This makes it easier to plan, focus on work to be done, and learn new roles as the company grows.

6. What excites you most about GlucoModicum and how do you think the Talisman will impact the lives of patients living with diabetes?
The most exciting thing about GlucoModicum is our technology. The Talisman not only has the potential to improve the quality of life of people living with diabetes, but it can also enable people to make life choices to prevent diabetes complications and in some cases, prevent people from developing the disease in the first place.

7. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your role?
I think ultimately, being an entrepreneur may be the biggest challenge I have faced as this is something you cannot study for in school. However now that I have done so, I am glad I accepted this challenge.