Collaboration across universities and sectors the way forward for Hong Kong innovation, renowned genetics expert says
Professor Tsui Lap-chee urges government support for joint facility and cites American model involving MIT and Harvard as something city could emulate
Collaboration is the only way forward for innovation in Hong Kong, an academic leading a review of R&D in the city has said, adding that a biomedical institute, to be jointly set up by universities, could serve as a springboard for future partnerships in other fields.
Speaking to the Post last week, Professor Tsui Lap-chee, chairman of the government-appointed Task Force on Review of Research Policy and Funding, said a number of renowned scientists and luminaries in the innovation sector with a connection to Hong Kong were also on board with the project.
The molecular genetics expert said six of the city’s eight public universities had shown interest in the first-of-its-kind facility, and it would be needed for large research programmes that could not be handled by a single laboratory.
“Suppose you are trying to find a chemical compound that can cure liver cancer, you must [involve different researchers], such as chemists to find new drugs, clinicians who understand what liver cancer is and cell biologists,” he said.
The professor added that this form of group approach to research was new to Hong Kong. He cited the example of the Broad Institute in America – a collaboration among the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and other institutions – which is known for gene editing technology.
Tsui said if the two renowned Boston universities and other research institutes in the area could work together, he believed the model could apply in Hong Kong.
In a recently published interim report, up for public review, the task force stated there were general concerns that funding for large research was limited and fragmented in the sector.
It recommended that the government encourage universities and institutions to jointly set up research centres. These would address topics of strategic and regional importance that were too vast to be handled by individual institutions and existing funding mechanisms in the city.
Tsui who is heading the preparatory committee for the biomedical institute, proposed that the government inject HK$5 billion (US$640 million) into setting up the centre in a technology park planned at a border area with mainland China.
He said the intention was for professors to do full-time research at the institute, which would pay their salaries. As part-owners of the institute, universities would not need to worry about losing talent, and the scholars could continue to teach or supervise students on a voluntary basis.
According to Tsui, experts familiar with Hong Kong are members of the committee.
They include Dr Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine in the United States; Professor Mak Tak-wah, immunologist and chairman of Croucher Foundation; Dr Kenneth Fong, founder of Clontech Laboratories, a biomedical company in the San Francisco Bay Area; and the deans of the medical schools at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, Gabriel Leung and Francis Chan Ka-leung respectively.