Thinking Space: New Innovations in Biomedical Research

Art by Ellie Gabriel.

Biotech and biomedical business skyrockets, literally, as Andrea Yip, CEO and founder of Luna Design and Innovation, launches commercial research experiments into space. Luna is advancing human health and well-being by making space a commercially viable research platform for biotech and pharma companies. Luna is the global biotech partner for Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Yip’s academic background is in the field of public health. After receiving her BSc in Biology from the University of Calgary and her MPH in Health Promotion from the University of Toronto, she became immersed in helping those around her. Creating new products and services in mental health and women’s sexual health, she developed a strong passion for connecting individuals with medical resources. This commitment is still at the heart of Luna, which seeks to explore a new platform for medical research. “I still consider myself as working in healthcare,” she explained, “just in space.”

Behind Luna’s meteoric success is Yip’s dedication to her concept…and a lot of hard work. Yip had an impressive resumé in public health and a successful job at Johnson & Johnson in New York City doing product design, and then, she quit. As she researched and sought new business opportunities, her mind wandered into space. “I’ve always been fascinated by space, [and] I credit my great-grandmother for sparking my interest. She didn’t speak English but loved to watch visually stimulating TV shows, her favorites being the World Wrestling Federation and Star Trek.” The latter completely fascinated Yip: “I loved how they explored space and pushed scientific boundaries.”

She then began to think about what it would be like to experience space from the perspective of the everyday citizen, someone like most of us who have never studied astrophysics or worked for NASA. She organized her thoughts on a visually concise diagram called a Journey Map, detailing what a trip to space would be like for a commercial astronaut or “a space tourist.” Then she sent her creation to companies, and Virgin Galactic responded with a contract offer.

Yip became CEO of Luna and launched herself into the business of space exploration. However, creating a start-up isn’t nearly as hard as trying to grow its business, in an arena where only two percent of start-up funding goes to woman entrepreneurs. “I’m often the only woman and person of color in the room. Sometimes, I really stand out when I go to conferences,” Yip laughed. “Running a startup that focuses on an emerging market in the space industry is exciting and forces me to enter uncharted territory. What has been invaluable to me as an entrepreneur is having diverse mentors and sponsors who I can turn to for support.” She added, “I’ve learned how important it is to reach out to other business leaders and CEOs, particularly other women, who can relate to my own experiences and help open doors to new opportunities.”

Yip finally saw her vision and hard work become reality by orchestrating the first Blue Origin space flight competition in Canada, which allowed over 600 high school students to design experiments online to be conducted in space’s microgravity environment. One selected experiment will be launched into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with the help of Luna.

“The commercial space industry is transforming the way we think about space. It’s changing the way people like you or I can access space today,” Yip says. “Scientists are exploring how to leverage space as a research platform, and how the microgravity environment can advance medical research in areas like oncology or bone and muscle loss.” What excites Yip the most about space is that it is a potentially untapped resource that is becoming more tangible for more people. “I don’t have a traditional aerospace background. I’ve embraced the fact that I have a biology, design, and public health background and that I can be here, today, and be one of the few women and people of color who is a space CEO. I’m excited about what that means for access to space tomorrow and how we can advance healthcare in space and on Earth.”