Nan Fung

Hong Kong biotech start-up raises funds from Nan Fung Group

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 8:38pm

A Hong Kong biotechnology start-up using fish embryos to test for toxic substances in food or cosmetics has raised investment from Nan Fung Group led by chief executive Antony Leung Kam-chung, the former financial secretary of the city’s government.

Vitargent (International) Biotechnology announced on Thursday it has raised an undisclosed sum in a Series B round led by property developer Nan Fung Group, with Leung to chair the company’s Business Advisory Committee.

Vitargent will use the investment for research and development, expanding its markets and hiring lawyers to make patent applications, according to chief executive Jimmy Tao.

“From our cooperation with our European clients we also understand that in the coming five to 10 years, India and China will be the biggest consumer markets,” Tao said. “I think we as a company in Hong Kong have the best position.”

Tao declined to disclose the size of the investment, but said it valued the company among the top five start-ups in Hong Kong.

Vitargent’s technology uses transgenic medaka fish and zebrafish embryos to test for toxic substances across products from cosmetics to cooking oil.

The company’s testing method relies on specially designed fish embryos that turn fluorescent or develop abnormalities and tumours when exposed to certain toxicants.

Tao said the two varieties of fish embryos can test for up to 3,000 toxicants.

Vitargent plans to expand its overseas markets and will license its technology in Europe, mainland China and Taiwan this year.

Eric Chen, chief commercial officer of Vitargent, said the company will focus on the baby food market and share safety information with parents through parenting platforms in mainland China, where food safety scandals have rocked consumer confidence.

In 2008, baby formula tainted with melamine killed six babies and caused 300,000 to fall ill.

Leung said Nan Fung Group’s investment was designed to promote innovation in the city and inspire young people by providing employment beyond the finance sector.

“Nan Fung is very keen to promote innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in Hong Kong,” Leung said. “And the way that we are promoting it is through Nan Fung and also my involvement to help as many Hong Kong start-ups as possible so they can be successful.”

Leung said Nan Fung Group has invested US$100 million over the past two years in information technology and life sciences companies and it is now looking to invest in more early-stage companies. Most of the firms investing in these two sectors to date have focused on the United States and Europe, Leung said.

He has personally invested in Hong Kong storage start-up Boxful, which delivers and collects storage boxes to customers’ homes.

Last year, Vitargent announced it had raised an undisclosed Series A investment from California-based WI Harper Group, which also invested in the latest round.

Vitargent is a graduate of the start-up incubation programme at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.