Hong Kong has made remarkable strides in recent years to become a leading global innovation and technology (I&T) hub. Its impressive achievements in the technology sector have recently been praised and recognized. Confidence has prevailed in the special administrative region to become a highly dynamic international I&T hub that is a driving force for the country’s overall development.
As Hong Kong is poised to achieve its goal of becoming a major innovation hub, President Xi Jinping expressed his support for the goal during his inspection tour of the Hong Kong Science Park last June. With tangible policy support from both the central and the SAR governments, Hong Kong, known for its excellence in academic research, faces the challenge of connecting various elements to unleash the city’s full potential in developing the innovation industry. The crucial question remains: How can these elements be effectively linked to create a thriving and sustainable I&T ecosystem in Hong Kong?
Undoubtedly, there are challenges associated with the development of biomedical products. From time-consuming product development to meeting regulatory requirements, working successfully with hospitals and partners, and meeting manufacturing and protocol standards, the journey can be daunting.
Biotechnology a promising start
The secretary for innovation, technology and industry, Sun Dong, foresees biotechnology as becoming a key pillar in Hong Kong’s I&T development. The city’s cluster of prominent universities possesses outstanding research capabilities and a deep talent pool in life and health disciplines, making biotechnology a promising field with broad application potential and abundant business opportunities for investors.
Given its limited market size, Hong Kong should capitalize on its role as a nexus between the East and the West. For example, Hong Kong could develop its regulatory system to streamline product approval processes in the United States, Europe and China by participating in mutual recognition agreements (MRAs). Improving the alignment of interests between researchers and hospitals would facilitate clinical trials, and easing border controls would allow the study of disease-related biological materials being brought into Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland.
A case in point is the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital, which stands as a compelling example of serving the public interest in times of health crises by harnessing resources from both the mainland and the Western world. In January 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of eminent microbiologists, led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and Dr Jasper Chan Fuk-woo, made a groundbreaking discovery from the virus samples collected in Shenzhen. The discovery has laid the scientific foundation for global pandemic control measures.
It has been acknowledged that Hong Kong is playing an increasingly pivotal role in supply and data chains, skillfully bridging the two worlds. The city is witnessing a burgeoning number of biomedical innovations that are rapidly transitioning into practical applications. This is an opportune time for the next phase in the development of a comprehensive biomedical innovation and commercialization ecosystem.
Much remains to be done to maximize the resources and bring ideas from the lab to the marketplace in a timely manner. Nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset is fundamental to overcoming the challenges of application and commercialization.
The key to entrepreneurial success lies in understanding how business works. For example, while the industry desires ready-to-use intellectual property (IP), basic researchers often view IP as an idea with multiple potential applications yet to be developed. Bridging this gap in perspectives requires effective and transparent communication. Researchers can benefit from a better understanding of the business side, while business partners can recognize the research process and the long-term benefits of intellectual property development.
In this regard, Hong Kong universities should encourage more startups at the undergraduate level by providing students with hands-on entrepreneurial experience and equipping them to face the challenges of starting a new business. Institutions like the new Techno-Entrepreneurship Core at the University of Hong Kong have been established to nurture visionary risk-takers.
Likewise, many companies at the Hong Kong Science Park are rolling out internship programs for students, providing them with firsthand experience of the biotech platform for drug discovery.
Successful startups not only require individuals who can persevere to produce game-changing innovative products but also individuals with an eye for investment and a sense of the market.
Hong Kong offers biotech startups and pre-revenue companies opportunities for funding and support through programs with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP) or grants and support from the Innovation and Technology Fund, which will enable biotech startups to move beyond the proof-of-concept stage.
Over the years, the Hong Kong stock market has consistently ranked among the top 10 largest stock markets in the world by market capitalization. In 2018, HKEX amended its listing rules to allow pre-revenue biotech companies that met the requirements to list, enabling pre-revenue biotech companies to access the capital market for further research and development.
Shaping the future of biomedical research
The translation of biomedical research outputs is taking shape and will continue to evolve over the upcoming decades. Hong Kong possesses the innate potential to emerge as a fertile source of innovation that will greatly benefit patients and contribute to public welfare, even in the face of the current volatile and fluid environment. As a small market, Hong Kong needs to focus on developing I&T companies to build up a larger portfolio of IPs and businesses that can be exported not only to the mainland but globally.
As Hong Kong moves forward on this remarkable trajectory, it is poised to redefine the boundaries of biomedical advancement, bringing transformative breakthroughs to the forefront, and improving lives on a global scale.
The author is founder of Albius Sciences Group, whose Hong Kong operation is in the Incu-Bio program at the HKSTP for its Respiratory Syncytial Virus research and therapeutics development.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.