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Hong Kong Budget 2018-2019

Stanford, MIT, Johns Hopkins University and Waterloo University eye Hong Kong as regional base for stem cell research

Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and Waterloo University want to form a consortium in the city to engage in biotechnology R&D, source says – but hurdles remain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 11:16am

Four world-renowned universities are eyeing Hong Kong as a stronghold in Asia for developing cutting-edge stem cell research as the city’s financial chief is expected to announce incentives to make it easier for foreign research institutions to invest in innovation and technology locally, the Post has learned.

An industry source said Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University in the United States, and Waterloo University in Canada, would like to form a consortium in Hong Kong to engage in biotechnology research and development.

Another source close to the government confirmed that the four universities, which are leaders in stem cell research, had met Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and expressed their interest in boosting scientific research in Hong Kong. It is understood Lam pledged to offer support to their joint project, and facilitate the setting up of their research centre at the Science Park in Sha Tin.

They came up with the joint initiative after seeing the success of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in establishing a research centre at the Science Park.

“The universities found that the Karolinska Institute’s development model was successful and they are still looking out for donations,” the source said.

Hong Kong leader doubles R&D expenditure to HK$45 billion for next five years to boost ‘smart city’ innovation

The Stockholm-based institution received a HK$400 million (US$51.3 million) donation from Hong Kong property tycoon Lau Ming-wai to establish a research centre for regenerative medicine in the city in 2016 – its first and only research branch outside Sweden.

But the industry source said the stem cell project had made little progress because of a lack of proactive measures from across bureaus.

“They still need to clear some hurdles before the project can be realised in Hong Kong,” the source said. The four universities have yet to respond to the Post’s enquiries.

In her maiden policy address last year, Lam said the government strived to attract top overseas scientific research institutes to Hong Kong. She added that several internationally renowned institutions had approached her directly and expressed interest in setting up key collaborative technology platforms in Hong Kong. 

What’s holding Hong Kong back from becoming a smarter city?

In his budget speech on Wednesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po was expected to announce details of a fast-track innovation and technology (I&T) talent admission scheme to be introduced this year.

The scheme, which aimed to attract and retain I&T professionals by fast-tracking their admission process, especially in biotechnology, data science, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and cybersecurity, would be one of the measures to lure innovation investors to Hong Kong.

Chan was also expected to allocate resources to biomedical research and AI development, which could be a solution to the city’s rapidly ageing population.

Science Park CEO Albert Wong Hak-keung said Chan should formulate a host of measures to attract and help top overseas research institutes set up centres at the park.

The park would strive to develop close ties with overseas academic and research parties and encourage investment in the city’s innovation tech, Wong said, and it could help overseas companies venture into the mainland market. By the end of last year the park was home to about 100 international and local biotechnology companies, nearly double the number in 2015.

“We will scale up the park’s infrastructure to enhance research and integrate the supply chain throughout the lower to the upper ends. We aim to provide a one-stop solution and make Hong Kong a top-notch biotechnology quality-testing centre in the region,” he said.

Hong Kong Biotechnology Organisation chairman Albert Yu Cheung-hoi said the government could offer various incentives such as free or reduced rent at the park to lure those top overseas institutes. 

Fear of risks and too few tech graduates stalling Hong Kong’s smart city ambitions

He also suggested the government could act as a middleman to line up funding support from the business sector for those institutes.

“It’s a good thing for them to set up their research branches in Hong Kong as they can bring in a lot of their expertise and success stories. Their participation is very crucial for Hong Kong to become an international tech exchange hub,” Yu said.