In 2020, biochemical engineer Sang Yup Lee joined BII’s Scientific Advisory Board.
He is Distinguished Professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and well-known for the development of microbial strains and bioprocesses for the fermentative production of many chemicals including polylactic acid, succinic acid, and gasoline.
He was also Co-Chair of Global Future Council on Biotechnology at the World Economic Forum from 2016-2020, and until 2020, he served as a Scientific Director of the New Bioactive Compounds Section at the Center for Biosustainability at DTU.
This was also where he learned about BioInnovation Institute through meetings with CEO Jens Nielsen.
We talked to Sang Yup Lee to learn more about his career and thoughts on life science innovation in Korea.
Why did you choose the path of biochemical engineering?
To help establish a sustainable chemical industry and advance healthcare through bio-based production platforms. I use microorganisms as cell factories, and metabolically engineer them to produce bulk chemicals, fuels, materials, fine chemicals including drugs and natural compounds.
What are you currently working on?
I develop microbial cell factories capable of efficiently producing chemicals, fuels and materials. Some of the recent works include highly efficient production of four- and five-carbon dicarboxylic acids, natural products including carminic acid and all seven rainbow colorants, and biodegradable polymers. Also, my group has been upgrading systems metabolic engineering strategies by further incorporating machine learning algorithms.
Why did you say yes to joining the SAB?
I myself have been interested in founding companies. The vision of BII matches with mine, and thus I did not hesitate to join the board when Jens asked.
What is your view on BII’s offer to the life science ecosystem?
I think it is amazingly well planned. I think the strategies of BII will help startups advance. Not all scientists and engineers are aware of the process of establishing a company and the road to its success. BII has various programs to identify, incubate, and grow a company, and eventually make it successful.
In Korea, we have seen big successes in biosimilar production and we are currently the world’s largest producer of biosimilars. Also, Korea has been leading diagnostic systems for COVID-19 with numerous biotechnology startups founded and even more are being established.
What is the most promising progress you see in your field of expertise?
More efficient metabolic engineering for developing microbial cell factories through the integration of data science and artificial intelligence. On the challenge side, economics is still a challenge in the case of bio-based production of bulk chemicals and materials. However, the situation will change with the need to accomplish Net Zero emission, or at least almost Net Zero emission.