Chae-Ok Yun is currently Professor of Bioengineering at Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea, and CEO of biotech company GeneMedicine.

She has served as Deputy Editor of Molecular Therapy (2010-), Associate Editor of BMC Cancer (2010-) and Cancer Gene Therapy (2013-), Editorial Board member of Journal of Controlled Release (2010-), Gene Therapy and Regulation (2010-), International Journal of Cancer Research & Diagnosis (2013-), Regenerative Therapy (2016-), and Advanced Drug Delivery Review (2016-), Associate Editor in Chief of Oncolytic Virotherapy (2017-), and an Editorial Advisor of BMC Biomedical Engineering. She is also a Member of The National Academy of Engineering of Korea.

Tell us about your work.

For the last 25 years, I have been committed to the development of gene therapeutics, aiming to translate innovative and cutting-edge oncolytic adenovirus pipelines to clinic. I have founded GeneMedicine, Inc., a company specializing in the development of gene therapy, in 2014 to accelerate clinical development of oncolytic adenovirus technologies, hoping to improve the cancer patients’ quality-of-life and prognosis worldwide. I have successfully guided one of the GeneMedicine’s main oncolytic adenovirus pipeline GM101 to complete phase I clinical trial, which demonstrated excellent safety record and strong antitumor efficacy. I remain devoted to this cause and continue to work arduously to accelerate the clinical development and commercialization of several oncolytic adenoviruses that could address the unmet needs of cancer patients.

How have you worked directly to address SDG 5: Gender equality?

I had to overcome many challenges and adversities as woman engineer in Korea to pursue my career. For instance, both the industrial and academic sectors in Korea still remain heavily male-oriented, despite significant improvements over the years. The bias is still evident throughout the society and remain a major obstacle for current and future women engineer from fulfilling their aspiration or advancing their carrier. Hanyang University, which is the biggest and well-recognized engineering school of Korea, only has 5 tenured women faculties out of 250 total faculties. 

Similarly, I am one of the few women engineers in the National Academy of Engineering of Korea (NAEK) where only 18 out of 288 members are woman engineers. Although both Hanyang University and NAEK are putting in strong efforts to address these challenges, these disproportionate numbers show that there is still a significant room for improvement. I, like many other woman engineers in Korea, had to endure this societal bias, and this made me want to help young woman engineers. Through my education and start of my career, there was much less woman engineers than now, and the opportunities to build a strong network with women engineers were extremely rare and a challenging task. Therefore, I have continuously been trying to amend this problem by starting or partaking in several initiatives to improve gender equality for women engineers and mentor future women engineers both domestically and internationally.

Several years ago, I started and supervised the establishment of WE-HY (Women in Engineering at Hanayng University) program to guide and advise woman engineering students to achieve their dreams. WE-HY program educated prospective women engineers on how to become a global leader, provided valuable tips on career building choices, and opportunities to build a strong network with successful and established woman engineers from academic and industrial sectors. As a woman engineering professor, I have always tried to be a good role model and set a good example for students under my mentorship. 

Always reminding my students that most hardships, like gender bias, can be overcome through hard work and dedication, I have educated and guided many students to begin their career as women engineers in engineering society. 

I sincerely hope that more women engineers will take active participation in these initiatives to make it easier for prospective women engineer to pursue their career goals under equal societal circumstances. Hopefully, we will continue to observe significant and continuous improvement in employment of woman engineers at high-ranking positions to motivate prospective woman engineering students.

What has your experience been with policy engagement?

I have also taken active participation in policy making committee meetings hosted by different government sectors of Korea (e.g., Ministry of Trade Industry and Energy, Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, and Ministry of Health and Welfare) to promote societal changes and try to advocate higher level of funding to innovative scientific ideas. In the early 2000 when I was beginning my career in Korea, I was the one of the few women participants, but I did not give up and tried my hardest to make my voice heard despite the challenges. There are increasing number of woman engineers actively participating in these meetings and the number continues to rise, but there is still a huge room for growth. More active recruitment of and participation by new woman engineering leaders will be key to bridging gender inequality, as our voices grow stronger with number. Also, we need to take similarly active approach in engaging with the public to expose people to innovative scientific ideas. Public acceptance of and awareness to innovative scientific ideas are integral to accelerate the adaptation of new technologies by the policy makers and industrial sectors. 

To bridge the gap between the public and scientist, I have been taking active participation in opportunities, like forum and public speech, as a speaker to help other’s understand what type of innovative ideas are being developed and how these technologies can improve everyone’s quality-of-life. Although there is still a long road ahead of us, I believe that the society is heading toward the right direction to facilitate translation of innovative ideas into actual products with remarkable benefits. I sincerely hope that more woman engineers will take active participation to accelerate and continue the positive changes in gender equality and scientific advancements.

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Chae-Ok Yun

Professor of Bioengineering at Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea