Sepideh Parvanian has her hands full. In addition to working on her PhD research, she runs her own startup company and has had the chance to examine the Finnish business world over the course of an industry placement period at BCB Medical. For Parvanian, the best things about Turku are the nature, the jazz music and the trustworthy and safe atmosphere.

Sepideh Parvanian, who has lived in Turku for five years, meets me at a café in the PharmaCity building. She is wearing a jacket. The late spring weather, still cool, ensures that the jacket stays on her shoulders even when she’s inside.

“I have to say that my first winter in Finland was difficult, but I love the summer time here,” she says with a smile.

Sepideh, who graduated from the University of Tehran in 2013 with a master’s degree in biology, genetic engineering and biotechnology, has worked in various pharmaceutical companies in Tehran before coming to Finland. She first came to Turku as a doctoral student via the European Union’s Marie Curie programme.

The UNICOM project brings new talents to companies

Through the UNICOM project, coordinated by the University of Turku in partnership with Turku Science Park Ltd and Åbo Akademi, Sepideh was recruited for an industry placement at BCB Medical, a Turku-based company that collects and analyses clinical data.

“This was a unique opportunity to get to know the local business field in the final phase of my studies. Our research group at the university is very international, and my fellow students have expressed their frustration at how difficult it is to find internship opportunities at this stage of our studies,” says Sepideh.

Sepideh, who is currently finishing up her thesis in John Eriksson‘s research group, is studying the role of cell-derived nanoparticles in wound healing and tissue regeneration. Sepideh’s passion and goal is not only to develop global healthcare and pharmaceutical innovations to improve people’s lives, but also to bring research work and businesses closer together.

Coffee breaks are integral to Finnish work culture

There is still plenty of work to be done, as she believes that the importance and potential of collaboration between scientists and the pharmaceutical industry has not yet been fully realised.

The importance of close collaboration is highlighted in particular by the ever-increasing role of artificial intelligence in product development.

“The coronavirus vaccines are a good example of such effective collaboration. When there is a demand, results can be produced at a rapid pace. It is not enough to have a product that works, you also must know how to commercialise and market it.”

Easy-to-use Everyday Services

According to Lisse-Lotte Hermansson, Chief Scientific Officer at BCB Medical, Sepideh’s insight and ability to grasp the bigger picture, not only in the research field but also from the viewpoints of the health and medical industry in general, has been exactly the kind of expertise BCB Medical’s team needed. The company wanted to join the UNICOM project to provide employment opportunities for international talent in the Turku region.

At BCB Medical, Sepideh is working on synthetic data, implementing a business plan for a medical record solution, interviewing experts representing various partners, and mapping the competitive landscape.

“Our collaboration has been going very well. Having lived all over the world all my life, I know what it’s like to settle in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language,” says Lisse-Lotte, who currently works remotely from Switzerland.

Synthetic health data can solve challenges in new ways

One of BCB Medical’s best-known products is the Omavointi service, which is used in all university hospitals in Finland. The service allows patients to record and report their symptoms and overall condition to the healthcare staff. All the recorded information is stored in the service, so it is always available to the patient.

“Our goal is to provide better practical services for both patients and staff. We want to improve people’s daily lives and well-being in very concrete ways,” summarises Lisse-Lotte.

Rivers that Connect

Sepideh has enjoyed the equal, fair, and increasingly international atmosphere of her research team, the BCB Medical company as a whole, and even the entire city of Turku. For Sepideh, who hails from Iran’s third largest city Isfahan, Turku initially seemed like a small place, but the compact town has its advantages.

“You can walk almost anywhere at night and feel safe. The sea and nature are close by, and the air is clean.”

The river Aura flows through the city

Sepideh lives with her partner in a renovated old factory building on the bank of the river and enjoys the riverside restaurants. She enjoys listening to live music, with jazz being particularly close to her heart. She appreciates the city’s lively jazz scene.

The river Aura, which flows through the city, also reminds Sepideh of her home region, where the Zayanderood river runs through Isfahan.

Sepideh has made sure that she will not have the time to be bored: on top of everything else, she runs her own startup company, AVECIN-Biopharma. With support from the local Centre for Economic Development (ELY) and Business Finland, among others, the company is using advanced technology to develop natural products for skin and hair care.

Sepideh carries her cultural heritage with her in everything she does. Back home, she was strongly encouraged to follow her dreams and her siblings have also moved around the world pursuing their own studies. This is all thanks to the family’s parents encouraging their children to pursue the arts and sciences, and to explore the world with ample curiosity.

The cultivation of their own roots is also reflected in the name of Sepideh’s start-up, which comes from Avicenna, a famous Persian physician, philosopher and scientist of the Islamic Golden Age.

“We have great science, culture and history in Iran, not to mention a lot of new technology. I want to follow in those footsteps and bring a piece of this heritage to Turku,” she says with a smile.

Text: Heidi Horila
Translation: Turku Business Region