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Kelly Tanaka

PhD., SFU Chemistry 1999

Director of Research and Innovation,  NutriAg




Dr. Kelly Tanaka graduated from SFU (1999) with a PhD from the Department of Chemistry under the guidance of Professor Andrew Bennet.  His dissertation was entitled The Synthesis and Evaluation Novel Conformationally Biased and Carbocyclic Based Glycosidase Inhibitors.  He then moved to New York City where he completed Postdoctoral training with Professor Vern Shramm in the Department of Biochemistry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  During his graduate and postdoctoral training he developed a keen interest in mechanism-based drug discovery.  This led to a seven-year career in the biotech sector in Toronto (GlycoDesign) and Montreal (The Medicines Company) investigating new drugs for the treatment of cancer, inflammatory disorders and bacterial infections.  He was fortunate enough to work on a drug candidate that would eventually be approved by the FDA as the first single dose antibiotic for complicated skin and soft tissue infections.

In 2009 he moved to the private sector as a Research Scientist with NutriAg Limited, a specialty agriculture company located in Toronto.  At NutriAg, he has the opportunity to develop products to improve crop production for farmers around the world to help feed the ever-growing global population.  Currently, he is Director of Research and Innovation at NutriAg where he oversees product development from conception through to formulation development, greenhouse experiments, field trials and product registration.

In his spare time Kelly enjoys bike riding and skiing with his two young sons and spouse.


Why did you choose to go to SFU?

I had an opportunity to work on a project using NMR spectroscopy, a tool I was enamored with during my undergraduate studies in my hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta.  Being an avid skier I was excited to move to the west coast and enroll at SFU, one of the only Canadian Universities with a NAIA ski team.

Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?

As a graduate student there were three places we spent most of our time - the lab, the library and the pub!

What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?

The great friendships that were found and riding my mountain bike up the mountain through Burnaby Mountain Park – what a spectacular view!!!

Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?

My advisor Andrew Bennet was without question my favorite professor.  He was not only a great mentor and friend but also a genuine person with a passion for science and a decent left foot on the soccer pitch.

How has your SFU degree impacted your career?

It has given me some of the most important tools, experience and knowledge to be a successful individual in all of the career directions I have pursued.

What is your favourite SFU snow story?

Riding home through the snow covered trails on Burnaby Mountain by the light of a full moon.

If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?

Your time at school will go by fast so enjoy every minute and engage yourself in everything you do.

What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?

SFU should keep its passion and dedication towards the development of the next generation of successful graduates.