Singapore R&D pioneer Louis Lim dies at 81

Professor Louis Lim died from Covid-19 complications in Johor Baru.
Professor Louis Lim died from Covid-19 complications in Johor Baru.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Professor Louis Lim, a pioneer in Singapore's research and development (R&D) efforts, died last Friday (Jan 29). He was 81.

The Straits Times understands he died from Covid-19 complications in Johor Baru. He had grown frail in the last few months after suffering a stroke.

Prof Lim graduated in biochemistry from the National University of Singapore in 1964.

His postdoctoral research included a stint at Yale University where he contributed to a key finding in molecular biology that allowed mRNA, a genetic material that cells read to make proteins, to be cloned. This finding forms the basis of some Covid-19 vaccines.

He retired in 2008.

Prof Lim played a central role in setting up Singapore's first biomedical research facility - the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) - in 1985. It is now a world renowned institute.

"I first met Prof Louis Lim in late 1985 or early 1986 when I was asked by Dr Goh Keng Swee to help fund the building of the IMCB (facility)," said long-time collaborator and former Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) chief Philip Yeo.

"Louis helped recruit neuroscience colleagues from University College London and led the neuroscience research team at IMCB," he added.

Prof Lim was also a key player in conceptualising the design of Biopolis, Singapore's biomedical hub, and overseeing its construction in 2001.

That year, he helped set up the Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) as its first executive director.

"Louis was instrumental in the launch of the National Science BS-PhD scholarship... He actively helped to attract 'whales' to BMRC," said Mr Yeo, referring to the top researchers Prof Lim had recruited.

"Singapore has truly lost a whale of our own," he said.

A*Star scientist Masafumi Inoue, who had known Prof Lim for more than 30 years, since he was a student in Canada, said he encouraged students and scientists and had a good sense of humour.

"Singapore would not be a top research hub without Prof Lim," he said.

Dr Inoue had developed a Covid-19 diagnostic test kit with other A*Star scientists in February last year to help clinicians at public hospitals diagnose infections with high accuracy, and wished it could have saved Prof Lim's life.

Many remember Prof Lim fondly as a mentor.

Prof Kang-Nee Ting, who heads the school of pharmacy at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia said he had changed her life path.

"I spent two years working with Prof Lim as an administrator when he was building the foundation for BMRC in its early days," she said.

"I will always remember how he 'rescued me from the dump' and inspired me to return to science and academia."

Ms Lydia Tan, director of the Centre for Innovation at Changi General Hospital, worked with Prof Lim for two years at BMRC as a grant administrator.

"He believed every grant proposal had to be judged based on scientific merit and was very strict with who he appointed to review the proposals," she said.

He was also fun loving and generous with staff.

"He would take us out for Peranakan food often, and prepare the food and games for the BMRC's annual Christmas party," added Ms Tan.

Prof Lim was cremated last Saturday.