Tributes

Miranda Gek Sim Yap

1948 – 2015

Elected to NAE in 2006

For outstanding development of biologics and its commercialization in Singapore

By Daniel I.C. Wang

MIRANDA G S YAP was instrumental in creating and developing the foundation of biologics as well as its commercialization in Singapore died on October 14, 2015 age 67.

Miranda was born in Singapore, an island country a quarter the size of Rhode Island, on August 25 1948. As a young girl she was always willing to help in any activity in and out of the house. At 16 she was interested in many sports, but took to playing netball where she became a Singapore national player. Though not known as a bookworm, her interest in sports did not stop her from graduating cum laude.  She won scholarships to UK and Canada. She kept her interests in sports throughout her life---especially tennis and golf. It was on the tennis courts and golf courses where she often discussed her ideas with her colleagues to set her future research programs.  She was a true team player on and off the courts.

After returning from a Master of Science Degree (summa cum laude Chem Eng ‘74) from University College, London she took a desk job at Singapore Petroleum.  She found the job boring and left there to go to the University of Toronto to study for her PhD. Meanwhile she first met her future husband at a military tennis court.  She never thought she would see him again.  However, in 1979, they met again when he was studying at University of Wisconsin, Madison and she was working as a Post Doc.

She received her PhD in 1980 (wood chemistry).  She did a post-doc at University of North Carolina(Raleigh) and eventually at Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI.  She never realized how important and significant her research in “wood chemistry” would become which would impact the field of renewable energy resources. She has kept professional relationships with people such as Thomas Woods throughout the years.

After her marriage she returned home to join The National University of Singapore as a faculty member in Chemistry. It was only after she moved to the Chemical Engineering faculty over 25 year ago that the area of bioengineering research started to pique her interest. She began research in secondary metabolites from bacteria and fungi.  This was not yet developed very well in Singapore. She started a small facility in Natural Products with a staff of 10.  In 2002, she spun off this company and it has become one of the World’s largest and diverse commercial collection of natural products.  More recently, this facility has begun the commercial production of several antibiotics where Singapore owns the intellectual property rights as well as the rights for commercial sales. It should be mentioned that this was first antibiotic to be discovered as well as the first one to be tested for safety and for efficacy in Singapore.

Although Miranda has had many important permanent positions, she still found time to act as advisor to universities, companies, government and other professional organization.  I have listed below, but not all, those organizations she has had associations with in the past.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS INVITED TO PROF. M. YAP

·         Global Advisory Board (Asian Congress on Biotechnology 2011) - appointed May 2011
·         Jury Member of L'Oreal For Women in Science - appointed December 2008
·         Advisory Board, Society for Biological Engineering (under American Institute of Chemical Engineers)
·         Director of A-Bio Pharma Pte Ltd - appointed April 2006 (Completed)
·         Member of the Singapore Stem Cell Consortium (SSCC) Executive Committee (SSCC EXCO),A*STAR - appointed January 2006  (Completed)
·         Member of Biomedical Sciences Manpower Advisory Committee, EDB - Appointed March 2001  (Completed)
·         Member of President's Life Sciences Committee - Office of Life Sciences, NUS  -  Appointed 2001   (Completed)
·         Consultant to EDB – Evaluation of Life Science Projects - appointed September 2000  (Completed)
·         Member of the Board of Directors, Blue Dot Capital Pte Ltd - appointed September 2000 (Completed)
·         Life Science Steering Committee (Faculty of Medicine/Science), NUS  -  appointed February 2000 (Completed)
·         Editorial Board of “Asia-Pacific Journal of Molecular and Biotechnology” (Asian-based Journal)-– appointed July 1993 (Completed)


Miranda noticed at the start of her career at NUS there was a need for facilities under the FDA known as “Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).”  This need, however, was not so critical at that time, as noted by Miranda over 20 years ago.  However, in order to put Singapore on the “biotechnology” map, Miranda believed this was absolutely necessary to start the planning at this time.

This idea lead to a second spin-off in biologics contract manufacturing company which Miranda instituted in 2004. This was a GMO “Contract Manufacturing Organization”.  One of the goals was to be able to conduct research, development and manufacturing with product quality capable of passing US FDA requirements. Another equally important goal was “man-power training.”  Miranda as well as other key senior government personnel, such as Philip Yeo, realized in order to attract international biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, one of the critical decisions was to have highly trained personnel for these companies.

Meanwhile the Bioprocessing Technology Unit which she spearheaded in 1990 grew to become Bioprocessing Technology Institute (2003) with solid government support to lay the foundation for biologics. In a period of 25 years, she grew her small research group to over 160 staff, and 60,000 square feet capable of conducting research in all aspects of biotechnology. The institute is now recognized nationally and internationally as a first class laboratory.

Much of her success hinged on developing an R&D environment as well as nurturing a talent pool trained in biologics manufacturing. For her passion to train the next generation of researchers, she was to wear a second hat as the Executive Director of Singapore’s A*Star Graduate Academy, tasked to produce human research capital. The reason for Singapore’s strategy to develop these PhDs was to attract biotech and biopharma companies to locate their research and manufacturing facilities in Singapore.

 In 1997 she set up various incubators to spawn small and medium sized biotech companies in-house. This was accomplished by setting aside laboratory spaces for start-up companies.  In 2009 she scored a double coup; first – awarded the inaugural President’s Science and Technology medal, for outstanding contribution to R&D with a “spirit of innovation, commitment and relentless pursuit of excellence, not only to the BioSciences landscape but also to the wider society in Singapore”. Secondly she was the first person from Singapore to be elected as a Foreign Associate of US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 2006, for significant contributions to engineering research, education and management in BioTechnology research.

All of Miranda’s other awards are shown below.

ALL OF MIRANDA YAP’S AWARDS


Name of Award


Year Awarded


·         The Long Service Medal, for dedicated service and contribution to the nation (National Day Award)
·         Asia-Pacific Biochemical Engineering Conference (APBioChEC) Award for distinguished contributions to the field of biochemical engineering
·         Society for Biological Engineering (SBE) Award for excellence and service as co-founder of the Consortium of CHO Cell Genomics
·         President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM), awarded by the President of Singapore for developing Singapore’s biologics industry and nurturing young talent for R&D sector
·         Elected as Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE)
·         Public Administration Medal (Silver), for dedicated service and contribution to the nation (National Day Award)

  August 2010

  November 2009


  


 November 2009


September 2006

 February 2006

August 2003


In her research planning for the Institute, she was a strategic and long-range thinker.  Miranda planned her research in a staged fashion. She realized that the production of biologics would require many disciplines and she could not devote all of her funds in one or two specific areas.  Along with inputs from her Scientific Advisory Board, she carefully selected the following areas which she believed would lead to successful biopharmaceutical manufacturing. As a way to “jump start” her future plans, she spun-off a small scale CMO which she sold to a private person from the People’s Republic of China.

Miranda’s research plans and timing, chronologically, as shown below.

·         Molecular Biology, Protein Expression And Protein Quality With Special Emphasis In Eurokaroytic Organisms
·         Apopotosis (Cell Death) And Its Relationship For Cessation Of Growth
·         Protein Glycosylation To Maintain Or Improve Protein Quality
·         Stem Cell And Its Biology And Production
·         Novel  And New Protein Purification Methods And Reagents. (This Area Only Begun About 2 Years Ago And Over 30 Patents Have Been Issued Or Filed To Displace Protein C Chromatography. If The IP’s Are Issues, I Predict This Will Be A “Block Buster” Technology.) 

Perhaps her major contribution to bio-science was in Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell which she and her collaborator, Professor Wei-Shou Hu, University of Minnesota have singularly sequenced the CHO genome! This basic research allowed them to establish the CHO Genome Consortium. Over 30 companies joined this Consortium and each paid an entrance fee.  Although the results are kept confidential, it has been heard from the “grape vine” that this Consortium has contributed to the various companies.

Another Miranda’s major efforts was her belief in Singapore and its people.  Her follow-up on man-power training and technology advancements have resulted in 6 commercial biopharmaceutical plants established in Singapore, employing 1300+ people and bringing in investments totally over $2.5 billion US dollars.

Miranda has supervised 50 PhD and MS candidates, published over 110 papers in refereed journals and 158 papers in non-refereed journals, co-authored in 3 books and 5 invited international presentations.

Miranda is remembered by her students as high energy, dedicated to her work, generous with people.  She believed every young person deserves a chance, or even a second chance to do their best. She continued to follow subordinates even after they left the institute for industry.  Although she worked hard, she remained active in her interest in sports and was very accomplished in both tennis and golf.

Miranda was a person of integrity, maintaining uncompromising high standards for herself and for her staff and students.  The goal was to establish results that would become a game changer to the greater scientific community. She also had a “softer side” and was a very caring person and sensitive to the feelings and responses of all those she came into contact – friend or foe. She showed genuine interest in others and had a wonderful sense of humor. Her quick witted response to technical and administrative challenges often won people over with her open and disarming personality. Her generosity was legendary - from her hospitality to staff and visitors as well as helping others financially. One of her favorite fruits is “Durian” (aka King of Fruits), and she would hold frequent durian parties at her home or send them as gifts to her friends.


Miranda had no children, but was always enthralled by children and babies. She is survived by her husband¸ Kian Yap, her sisters, brother, nephew and nieces who worship.  She is also missed by her beloved dachshunds.

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