From PhD candidate to entrepreneur: How Dr. Diana Kraskouskaya is revolutionizing drug discovery
Dr. Diana Kraskouskaya shares how without prior business training, she and other industry leaders are making strides in the drug discovery industry and paving the way for other women in STEM.

March 8 marks International Women’s Day—a day on which women around the world should be celebrated for their accomplishments and recognized for their challenges. Dr. Diana Kraskouskaya is a great example of a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who has invested in entrepreneurship and therapeutic development while demonstrating that raising a family, being an academic, and being an entrepreneur are not mutually exclusive. Through persistence and proactivity, she has achieved a level of self-confidence that encourages a growth mindset. Highlighting achievements such as those of Dr. Kraskouskaya allows women everywhere to celebrate and be inspired to do the same in their own ways. 

Despite moving to Canada without any familiar faces, Dr. Kraskouskaya managed to complete her bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), where she studied molecular biology and chemistry. She worked in the Gallie Lab under Dr. Brenda Gallie for several years, conducting studies related to retinoblastoma—a form of cancer beginning in the retina. Afterward, Dr. Kraskouskaya pursued a direct-entry PhD in medicinal chemistry under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Gunning at UTM, graduating in 2015. Although she considered an academic path beyond a PhD, she found that she thrived in an industrial setting more than in academia. 

In the field of life sciences, the educational path can be long and arduous. For many, it entails first completing an undergraduate degree and a relevant master’s degree before moving to a PhD and a post-doctoral fellowship, which still does not guarantee a successful industry job. While some dread the academic path, Dr. Kraskouskaya explains that it is an exciting one, as it manifests as one’s ability to add societal value through pursuit of a discipline one is passionate about. This, in itself, is rewarding. A successful breakthrough in drug discovery is an invaluable contribution to the community that everyone in the field hopes to make. 

Despite her passion for research, when looking at her social circle, many members of which did not pursue the scientific path, Dr. Kraskouskaya sometimes fell prey to thinking that “they already had a head start on their career path.” However, as she progressed through her career and broke academic barriers, she understood that everyone has their own path, whether it be planning for a family or the switch from academia to industry. As women in the digital age, it is often easy to compare ourselves to others’ progress. But, as Dr. Kraskouskaya learned, understanding what you want and setting your own timeline, while being open to the complexities of life, is truly what “opportunity” means. 

While Dr. Kraskouskaya appreciates the sentiment of looking at the individual’s accomplishment rather than their gender, she acknowledges the impact of strong female scientists and researchers on her own life and the lives of women everywhere. 

Another aspect of opportunity that Dr. Kraskouskaya was able to uncover is a strong and beneficial network. Dr. Kraskouskaya shares that she is a strong believer that “every day and every interaction shapes you as a person.” Interacting with professionals from industry and investment backgrounds during her PhD allowed her to not only develop a deeper understanding of the work she was doing, but also helped grow her personal network. Additionally, working alongside brilliant PhD colleagues, she attended conferences where she could hear various perspectives on the potential paths for those in her field. 

Once she completed her PhD, Dr. Kraskouskaya set off to find further ways she could shift her academic experience into the industry. Her main drive was that there was no substantial drug discovery industry in the Greater Toronto Area, leaving Canadian scientists with the dilemma of remaining at home and requalifying, or moving to the United States, where the drug discovery industry was thriving. This concern inspired the formation of Dalriada, a pharmaceutical company based in Mississauga. 

Initially, Dr. Kraskouskaya held no training in business. But when she was around seven months pregnant, she decided to develop herself further and took entrepreneurship courses at U of T. To her surprise, she was not alone. While she was simply hoping to benefit from a crash-course-like opportunity, Dr. Kraskouskaya met a woman in the same situation—pregnant, out of life sciences, unsure of what to do next, but striving to make a business idea out of her PhD. 

Dr. Kraskouskaya had a strong vision for her company that integrated the academic model of Dr. Gunning’s research group for drug discovery. Together, she and Dr. Gunning took the academic vision and industrialized it to make the most effective service-based drug discovery company. 

As the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dalriada, she fostered the growth of opportunities for jobs in the drug discovery realm locally. This year marks six years of operation for Dalriada, and the sixth birthday of Dr. Kraskouskaya’s daughter, showing that her role as a mother complemented her role as a scientist. Her work will be strongly supported by the launch of the Centre for Medicinal Chemistry building led by Dr. Gunning, which aims to open doors for the development of the drug discovery world right at UTM. This will offer opportunities that align with Dr. Kraskouskaya’s passion to blend academia and industry. 

Dalriada is now close to a 100-person company supporting the most innovative drug discovery programs across the world. Moreover, alongside Dr. Gunning, Dr. Kraskouskaya is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of another company: Dunad Therapeutics. This too, was successful, in that it raised tens of millions in Venture Capital funding, leading to a $1.3 billion collaboration with Novartis—a multinational pharmaceutical company. 

Dr. Kraskouskaya was able to find a way for not only women, but anyone in the field struggling to find their career path in drug discovery or life sciences. This International Women’s Day, her story serves as a reminder that no matter where you are or how lost you feel on your career path, with perseverance and a proactive attitude, you can pave your own way. 


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