17 January 2019
A biomedical research base will give Hong Kong a greater competitive edge. Photo: Bloomberg
A biomedical research base will give Hong Kong a greater competitive edge. Photo: Bloomberg

Biomedical technology can boost Hong Kong’s competitive edge

With the aim of supporting Hong Kong’s biomedical research and development, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has put forth a plan to build a biomedical research base near the site of the planned private hospital of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Amid the city’s pursuit of innovative technologies, Lam believes that biomedical technology will give the city a greater competitive edge, and therefore it is worth developing.

Biomedical technology has been developing rapidly in mainland China and other countries. Many areas such as biotechnology, medical supplies, in-vitro diagnostic systems and healthcare information technology have seen significant improvements in recent years.

By 2020, the global biomedical technology market is projected to reach US$600 billion, while the medical equipment market alone can reach US$550 billion.

HK’s superb healthcare quality

Hong Kong has achieved high levels of healthcare quality. Its research standards in such disciplines as liver transplants, lung cancer and genomics have been the cream of the crop.

In the past, the results of all these medical research studies were not developed further into industries. If they were, great achievements could have been made.

Pharmaceutical drugs have a research and development cycle of 10 years. The early phase of research requires a long period of time, and the success rate is less than one percent.

Hong Kong can focus on clinical development in order to shorten the time from shortening the development of a new drug to its market launch.

HK’s role in clinical testing of new medicine

The medical schools of the University of Hong Kong and CUHK both have clinical centers to test new pharmaceutical products. Last year, the two medical schools received recognition from the China Food and Drug Administration.

Many clinical centers in mainland China have been phased out during the past year because their operation did not meet government standards.

As a result, clinical costs have soared and many pharmaceutical factories have to seek reliable clinical testing centers. Hong Kong can cash in on the growing demand.

Mainland pharmaceutical plants are assured of high quality and efficiency when their new drugs are tested in Hong Kong.

Testing process can start in two to three months, as long as a permit is obtained from Hong Kong’s Department of Health, while an application for a similar permit from the China Food and Drug Administration can take years before it is approved.

Moreover, clinical results obtained in Hong Kong are recognized by both the China Food and Drug Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration. There is also a chance to integrate the results into other global research and studies, which means the possibility of speeding up the approval procedure for pharmaceutical products.

In fact, Hong Kong can serve as a platform for China’s pharmaceutical factories to expand overseas, and for overseas pharmaceutical plants to venture into the China market.

The Boston example

Clinical studies are crucial in fueling medical technological development. A strong case is Boston, the capital of Massachusetts.

A number of reputable hospitals in Boston have linked up with Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct research and development work on pharmaceutical products and high-end medical technology. Once significant results are confirmed, the commercial sector will be involved in the development stage.

The Boston model can be a good reference for Hong Kong. Doctors are encouraged to participate in research and development in order to gain better understanding of the needs of both patients and hospitals.

The government can push for cross-disciplinary studies on healthcare. For example, the Hospital Authority can undertake research using its own data and incorporating information technology, DNA and artificial intelligence to directly address the needs of Hong Kong patients or develop new pharmaceutical drugs tailor-made for Chinese.

Biomedical technology, riding on its current accomplishments, can advance further into other realms such as precision medicine, genome editing and regenerative medicine.

Hong Kong will be able to see a flourishing biomedical technology if it is ready to reach the goal at full throttle.

Nisa Leung is the convener of Venture Investors Alliance of Hong Kong

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 31

Translation by Jonathan Chong

[Chinese version 中文版]

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