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Page updated 23.2.2023

A Master’s degree in business administration accumulated new skills – PhD researcher in cell biology Preethy Paul is now also an MBA

Preethy Paul, a researcher from India, has been working on human papilloma virus (HPV) research at Åbo Akademi University since 2009. Based on her research work, she cofounded a start-up, Anison Therapeutics Oy, focusing on treatment of warts caused by HPV. The Master’s degree will help Paul in the marketing of finished products in the future.

Text and photo: Siiri Welling 

A confident and very capable woman sits on Taidon portaat in EduCity. Preethy Paul, 38, has managed to establish a start-up in a short time, found a new research target and acquired additional knowledge in the field of business administration.

My background is completely in science and research, but I wanted to know more about economics and business. That is why I applied for the Master of Business Administration programme at Turku University of Applied Sciences, says Paul.

Paul graduated from India with a doctorate in animal sciences. She studied cell biology and did part of her doctoral research at Åbo Akademi University. After graduation, she returned to do postdoc research at ÅA. In her doctoral studies, she discovered an interesting component that could be used in the treatment of cancers caused by the HPV virus.

– Since then, I have mainly worked at ÅAU in Prof. John Eriksson's laboratory on HPV research. We have been developing compounds to treat diseases caused by the HPV virus, explains Paul.

The team of researchers working on the HPV research has tried to create business contacts and get funding for the continuation of the research. This is what happened in 2018. However, receiving the funding required Paul and the rest of the team to develop their business knowledge, such as pitching skills and marketing plans. Thanks to the research on HPV warts, Paul and her team also decided to establish their own start-up, Anison Therapeutics Oy, to develop an anti-HPV drug.

– Then in 2019, when we were developing a product to treat HPV warts, we discovered during research that our product might also have insect-repellent properties. We made the observation for the first time during the studies in India with cows. We would not have really paid attention it if the vet who treated the cows hadn't pointed out that the drug seems to repel fleas too. We also did a few tests in a lab, and the results were good. Then we decided to establish new research for the development of plant-based beneficial mosquito and tick repellents.

Learning is continuous

When Paul suddenly had two studies in front of her that required knowledge of business administration and especially commercialization, Paul decided to familiarize herself with business education courses. By chance, she discovered the MBA education at Turku University of Applied Sciences and decided to apply. Paul thought that she could study well in addition to work and research in the evenings and weekends.

– But then the coronavirus pandemic started, and all the laboratories were closed for at least two months. Suddenly, I did not have to travel to work and the meetings moved online. In the spring of 2020, I completed a lot of courses, which helped me a lot in graduation.

According to Paul, studying was very flexible. The training brought together different people, all of whom worked alongside their studies. Many already had previous education and know-how in business administration.

Business economics was a completely new field for me, so I learned a lot from other students through group work. Of course, I also studied by myself, but I certainly had to spend much more time on the courses than the other students, says Paul.

There were lessons a few times a month. After the lesson, the students received many link tips to, for example, videos on business economics on YouTube. Although there were few teaching sessions, there was still a lot to study. According to Paul, teaching made it possible to combine work and family life. The teaching gave practical knowledge, which Paul believes will be useful in the future in start-ups.

There is a demand for plant-based insect repellent

Paul graduated in June. Her thesis dealt with the market of plant-based insect repellents in Finland and elsewhere in the world. So, in her thesis, Paul used the data of the research that is already underway, but at the same time, the thesis is useful for the research in terms of continuation. The insect repellent study will end at the end of this year. So far, Paul still cannot say whether new funding will be applied for insect repellent research or whether the activity could continue in the form of a start-up. There is still demand for plant-based insect repellents, as more and more people are aware of the negative effects of synthetic chemical insect repellents on, for example, hormone function and the surrounding nature.

– In Finland, of course, there is more demand for tick repellents than mosquito repellents. We have now done one field study in Ruissalo, and in it we found that the plant-based repellent we created works against ticks more effectively than the commercial synthetic repellents. What we haven’t yet studied is the effect of our insect repellent on different mosquitoe species. The mosquitoes in Lapland are different than those, say, in Italy or India.

There is also a demand for natural plant-based insect repellents in Paul’s home country and other tropical zones where mosquitoes spread many diseases. In some tropical zones, especially in rural areas, insects are repelled with much more traditional methods, such as by burning dried herbs, but the effects are not longterm. The purpose of Paul’s study is to develop a product which has a long-term effect and is safe enough for all users.

We haven’t yet covered all safety aspects in our research, and it will take some time. However, if we continue with the product development, it can be launched to the market in a couple of years.

Paul recommends the MBA degree programme at Turku University of Applied Sciences without reservation to all those whose competence needs updating or who are otherwise interested in learning more about business administration.

This is also suitable for those who want to start their own company or work in the business world. In the future, I would also like to work more with the commercialization of scientifically developed products, Paul says.

Read Preethy Pauls article on Talk by Students:  The world needs plant-based insect repellents: Sustainable rationale and customer preferences