The University of Hong Kong is making a bid to join the lucrative pharmaceutical industry in the hope of helping develop cheaper drugs for common diseases, a renowned scientist said. Paul Vanhoutte, a distinguished visiting professor and a director of the Biopharmaceutical Development Centre at HKU, said the centre had identified five research projects by university scientists with promise in the treatment of diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease and cancer. It has also begun to investigate traditional Chinese medicine herbs. The Biopharmaceutical Development Centre, established in July 2003, was the brainchild of HKU vice-chancellor Tsui Lap-chee, who is a renowned geneticist. Professor Vanhoutte said he was confident that in the next year or so the centre would have identified a compound that could become a commercially viable medicine. 'What we try to do at the centre is identify the projects that are potentially relevant for industrial partnerships and try to accelerate them so that the university could reach an agreement with the industry a lot faster,' he said. 'At this stage we cannot reveal too much. We are at a stage of building up IP, or intellectual property. IP also means industrial protection. 'If you want to achieve partnership with industry, IP is more important than articles in (the scientific journals) Nature or Science because that is where the money will come from.' Professor Vanhoutte said a compound that could become a drug had been identified. 'All I can say is we are progressing very well and we are continuously looking at new projects,' he said. All the research projects so far were on western medicine and undertaken by HKU academics, but the professor said he would not rule out also looking at medical research by other local universities. Professor Vanhoutte is a well-known cerebrovascular researcher. He led research at French pharmaceutical firm Servier for a decade before heading the HKU centre with Ricky Man Ying-keung and Che Chi-ming. Professor Vanhoutte said his experience had given him 'a perspective of a combined university and industrial life that makes our centre a unique feature in Hong Kong'. He said the aim was to help discover new, cost-effective drugs for Asia, especially the mainland, citing the debate about making generic drugs for HIV.