Aspire to Tech: Career Spotlight – Spiro Getsios, Senior VP, Preclinical Research and Development

Career Spotlight – Spiro Getsios

What is your role? What is your title? Where are you located? How long have you been doing it?

I manage the preclinical R&D group here at Aspect Biosystems. We are a Vancouver-based biotech company, approaching our ten-year anniversary. I came on board about halfway through our journey, so I have been with the company for nearly  five years.

Since I joined, we have evolved into a company focused on developing bioprinted tissue therapeutics to transform the treatment of currently incurable diseases. So in my current role as Senior Vice President of Preclinical Research and Development, I oversee our technical teams that are working on the materials and the cells that we combine to create our implantable tissue therapeutics using our proprietary bioprinting technology.

What makes your job interesting?

It is hard to pinpoint just one thing! What does make me jump out of bed early in the morning with Aspect on my mind – I should mention, I’m a morning person – is the fact that we are doing things here that have the potential to massively impact the lives of individuals with life-altering diseases like diabetes and liver failure. We are working on developing curative therapies for type 1 diabetes and various liver diseases, and we are doing that using a totally new category of medicines that solve many of the challenges for current standard of care and even new therapies that are under development for those diseases.

The impact that our work can have on these people and on their families is really humbling. It jazzes me up. I think it jazzes everybody up at Aspect!. That is another reason I love to come to work with this team – everyone is excited about how we can work towards having that impact.

What is the most fun? What is the most challenging?

For me, it’s getting to sit beside, and learn from incredibly smart and creative people. Particularly here with our diverse set of backgrounds, both technically, and culturally. Diversity is at the forefront at all levels of the business, and I have been fortunate to interface and interact with individuals who have really expanded my mind.

We are a courageous group here at Aspect. It makes going into the unknown a lot of fun, in terms of new challenges. Particularly because we are really pushing ourselves and the technology to the outer boundaries where no one has really been before. For me, one of the hardest things is to remain disciplined with what we are doing with our bioprinting technology. I’m a scientist at heart and I love innovation. It lights my fire.

Our tech can do a lot of amazing things and can be applied to a broad array of applications, but we must remain focused on the task of developing medicines for the diseases that we have carefully selected as our targets.

How does your role help drive the company’s success?

We are developing a relatively complex medicine product. There are a lot of moving parts to that. There are the materials we work with. There are the cells, there is hardware, there is the software. There are intricate procedures that need to come together through our bioprinting technology for testing these implantable therapeutics and translational models, that are collectively giving us more and more confidence that we can transform the treatment of diseases like diabetes.

What I do for the most part is make sure this modern ballet is choreographed in a manner that makes the show  a true success. When things don’t go as planned, I also work for the team, learn what went wrong and try to make our next performance better.

What does a typical day look like for you? What do you actually spend your time doing?

Most of my time at work is spent refining the great ideas that my team comes up with, either in meetings or through documentation review. I also spend a lot of my time trying to find

ways to make those great ideas come to fruition – whether that’s finding materials, technologies, or other resources to help execute on our plans. Then, when I’m really lucky, I get to be in the lab watching our team in action as they work the floor!

Tell us about your career history?

I describe myself as a Cell Biologist by training. I was fortunate to train with some outstanding mentors throughout my career. I got my Ph.D. From the University of British Columbia. We were studying how cells interact with one another in the body to form tissues. I took that knowledge and went to do a fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago. Things went really well for me and my family there, so we ended up spending 16 years in Chicago.

After receiving tenure as a professor at the medical school there, I took a chance on myself and made the jump to industry. I joined a large pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, as a director of biology there. To be honest, most folks thought I was pretty crazy. I left the stable job in Academia. I saw it as a really exciting new chapter and an opportunity to really learn and bring new ideas to the table in a very different environment. For the whole time that we were in the States, we always kept Canada in our hearts and minds, and so when the opportunity came to return home with Aspect, we jumped at it.

What was your very first job and how did your career path take you to where you are today?

So officially, it was a place called Mmmuffins – with 3 M’s. That was a coffee and snack shop chain in Montreal, where I grew up. I found out that I was not actually cut out for manufacturing in that role. I really had a hard time not tweaking the muffin recipe when I was in the kitchen. On a more serious note, the part-time work really did help me pay my way through university. It also gave me an opportunity to do a lot of volunteer work in research labs at McGill University, and that’s really where I became infected with the research bug.

Where might you go next? What’s your next role?

I really love what I am doing and where I am currently at with Aspect Biosystems. At the same time, we are really a rapidly growing company and I always welcome new opportunities where I feel like I can grow and have an impact within the company.

What motivates you for your future career? Will you stay in tech?

I think this is one question that I would have answered the same 20 years ago, which is learning. I think it is important to keep your mind growing. And I think, also importantly, learning from others. I like people a lot, including techie people, so there is a good chance I will stay in tech.

Any final words of advice, or advice for young people?

For what it’s worth, be courageous and open to suggestions. Those are the guideposts that I use. Also, there are no bonus points for keeping great ideas stuck in your mind, just go there and do it!