Hong Kong is a more accessible place to do business compared to Mainland China for several reasons: red tape and overhead costs among the aspects that are significantly reduced.
This reasoning is even more compelling for biotechnology, health technology life sciences and medical technology all industries with a high degree of complexity
The Hong Kong government has from one side consistently been trying to position the city as a magnet to attract global talent in the healthcare industry by placing itself as a gateway to the vast mainland China market and on the other side formed a vital partnership with the world greatest corporations and research institutes.
Hong Kong Science and Technology Park HKSTP in Shatin, New Territories. Is at the completion of a 3rd and last phase of an ambitious development that started back in 2005. It encompasses 333,000m2 of offices and laboratories for R&D activity over 22ha with landmark cooperation agreements signed back in 2016. Co-ordinating with Stockholm Karolinska, focused on stem cells and regenerative medicine, Institute and with Boston MIT beginning in 2017 dedicated to material science and nanotechnologies.
The Hong Kong Government, in 2015, set up an “Innovation and Technology Bureau” (ITB) incorporating the dedicated Innovation Technology Fund (ITF). Capitalising 1 Million HKD (almost 100M €), it’s utterly focussed on innovation with seed funds available. Intended for start-ups that promote healthy lifestyles and the applications that support social inclusion.
HKSTP has three special programmes to incubate start-ups focussed on biotechnology and life sciences. Incu-TECH centred around material sciences. And incu-APP focused on added value mobile applications. An additional program called LEAD is an accelerator focused on improving in-house entrepreneurs management skills.
Another significant advantage to conduct medical research from Hong Kong into China is cheaper as Chinese Contract Research Organizations CROs. These have usually lower costs per patient and higher patient numbers, so a good strategy is to conduct clinical trials here 1st whether the 4 phases of drug development (1,2a,2b,3) or the only medical device testing and later recredit this work towards CE and FDA submissions.
During the recent StartmeupHK event in late January. Several European startups were invited to present their plan for local seed capital and private investors or enter collaboration and licensing agreements.
Hong Kong strives to be at the forefront on one side of the intersection between patient data and artificial intelligence. (“data is the new oil” as famously stated Mukesh Ambani CEO and owner of one of India’s brightest companies Reliance pharma). And the other of the applications of blockchain to the healthcare world including insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
The startup iSolve from Chicago presented innovative applications for smart contracts and proof of process for pharmaceuticals in 3 significant pathways. The 1st in pharmaceutical logistics, tracing a compound purity from API all the way to retailers and patients. Its 2nd applies to drug development through clinical trial studies. And the 3rd, into technology transfer and IP negotiations applicable to pharmaceuticals.
The Viennese start-up Image-biopsy, member of the Life Science community. LISA that already has an ongoing cooperation with the HKSTP and local partner was invited to present at the event by GIN, the Global Innovators network. A highly successful point of contact between incubators, innovators and investors also based in the Austrian capital.
Its primary product is software, powered by computer vision and artificial intelligence. Applied to medical imaging leads to early detection of degenerative bone diseases recognising some pattern of decay of the bone structure (trabecular structure of the bone) on a conventional radiogram.
Its success is the evaluation of Joint Space reduction (JSA), a key marker in Osteoarthritis (OA). That is diagnosed with its software before the 1st degree of Lawrence-Kellegren scale: almost invisible to the clinician naked eye. Other exciting applications include other osteo-inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis.
CEO, Richard Ljuhar, has been working in medical technology in China for a substantial part of his career. In Hong Kong, the perfect channel to enter the compound Chinese regulatory framework at a reduced cost.
Imagebiopsy has this ongoing cooperation with Novus Lifesciences based in HKSTP on Osteoarthritis and bone research to develop research and market synergies.
Novus is a company founded by three local PhD students with extensive experience. Including regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and advanced research of the muscle-skeletal system. This develops low viscosity fine needle injectable compounds (orthobiologics) both like pre-cartilage and bone-compatible cement. Used to help repair bone matrix in autoinflammatory diseases like Osteoarthritis Rheumatoid Arthritis or as a bone replacement with loss of bone-like maxillofacial traumas of hip fracture in humans with an opportunity of market development in the veterinary industry too.
They have partnerships with several key research facilities both in Hong Kong and the mainland like the University of Shantou. Including the biotech incubator Bio-island in Guangzhou, which hosts over a 1,000 firms. With CEO, Wilson Wong that serves as strategic advisor to biotechs coming to HKSTP and is on the scientific board of the incu-BIO program.
Incoming startups that are successfully selected for the Incu-Bio program have the advantage of 4 years within the HKSTP research labs. With R&D wholly funded, but operation costs are not deductible under this program. So other sources of investment are needed to make the startup viable. Mr Wong explains how, as much as he enjoys the opportunity to be based in HKSTP. He has also secured research funding in Europe from French Bio.Alps medtech cluster and Viennese LISA. He sees the future of collaborative research platforms like GIN that enhance the opportunities for innovative projects to meet investors and VCs.
Co-speaker, Dr Moshe Szyf, a leading geneticist and pioneer within epigenetics. He researches 20-years at the University of Montreal linking early ageing and cancer development to DNA methylation.
This research has led to a spin-off company called Methylgene that has identified several critical anti-cancer targets (tysorin-kinasis receptors). And developed a few interesting molecules. The most promising one is MGCD-265 a compound that has shown encouraging levels of activity. (in combination with recombinant antibody Erlotinib and chemotherapy agent Docetaxel) This led to the development and licensing agreements already signed with Japanese pharmaceutical companies Okuda and Taiho.
At Health tech O2O conference, Dr Moshe Szyf explained why his Montreal research centre was working with Chinese doctors and opened in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.” Says Andrew Work, Head Content Strategy, Asia Pacific, NexChange. “The core research stayed in Montreal, the Chinese partners provided access to large tissue samples and data sets, and testing and more research, in a business-friendly environment, was established in Hong Kong. It’s the best of all worlds.”