A cross-institutional research project led by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has received $27.5 million sustained funding support from the University Grants Committee (UGC), reaffirming the project's world-class excellence.
The funding was granted under the "Area of Excellence" (AoE) scheme, which was established in 1998 to support UGC-funded institutes to develop their existing strengths into internationally-recognized areas of excellence.
Prof Nancy Ip, Program Director of the project, as well as the Chair Professor of Biochemistry and Director of the Biotechnology Research Institute at HKUST, said the sustained AoE would bring significant benefits to Hong Kong's emerging biotechnology industry.
"Cutting-edge work in neuroscience will elevate the quality of research being conducted and fuel further collaborative work with renowned international institutes, creating invaluable education and training opportunities," said Prof Ip.
"Strategic alliances with industrial partners in the area of drug discovery and development will also reinforce Hong Kong's capabilities in this area, encouraging more biotechnology-related ventures within the territory," she added.
In 2001, the "Molecular Neuroscience: Basic Research & Drug Discovery" project led by HKUST was selected as an AoE project and received HK$26.8 million from UGC for a five-year period. Driven by a concerted effort from a multidisciplinary team of talented researchers, this project aimed to push the frontiers of neuroscience research, and establish a novel drug development strategy based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to develop effective treatments for brain-related diseases and disorders.
President Paul Chu of HKUST comments, "The funding granted by UGC reflects the outstanding and cutting edge work of the research team. I feel deeply honored and HKUST is very proud of the research work led by Prof Ip."
Over the last five years, tremendous achievements were made on both the basic research and drug discovery components of the AoE project.
These are highlighted by the establishment of best-in-class facilities, the assembly of a multidisciplinary team, and development of novel research technology. The combined efforts led to significant research advances in molecular neuroscience that have been recognized in prestigious peer-reviewed journals across the world.
The project also resulted in an impressive intellectual property portfolio incorporating biotechnology innovations and applications, as well as a number of novel TCM-derived drug candidates as potential treatments for brain-related ailments. Upon reassessment in 2007, the UGC commended the project as "an impressive programme with exceptional performance".
Prof Ip said the latest funding injection would enable the research team to build upon the progress and achievements attained thus far.
"The crucial groundwork has been laid from the previous AoE. We are now in an excellent position to move towards the next phase of the project," she said.
Through the multidisciplinary activities undertaken within the sustained AoE, the team aims to continue the critical work in molecular neuroscience to elucidate complex processes within the brain, and determine the mechanisms underlying various brain-related diseases and disorders.
The team will also focus their efforts on developing new drug candidates for various brain disorders as well as drive the further development of their existing portfolio of TCM-derived novel compounds towards clinical use. Developing effective therapeutic drugs for brain-related conditions is of high importance to Hong Kong and other developed countries due to the increased incidence of such ailments in the elderly as a result of a demographic shift towards an aging population.
As in the previous AoE, the project will be spearheaded by HKUST, and will also involve local institutions including the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Baptist University. The project will also garner the benefits of international expertise through research collaborations established with prestigious academic institutes and experienced industry partners.
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Luk Kam Wing