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Boosting a Powerful Partnership

Institut Pasteur  
Research developed by
the University of Hong Kong and France’s Institut Pasteur has played a key role in combating worldwide public
health challenges
 

  

The collaboration between premier research institution, the University of Hong Kong (HKU), and the non-profit French foundation Institut Pasteur (IP), a world leader in infectious disease research, began in 1999 when the HKU-Pasteur Research Center (HKU-PRC) was established in Hong Kong. Together, its scientists have developed pioneering research programmes dealing with infectious diseases, in particular, avian flu.

In 2014, this fruitful collaboration saw the centre move onto the next phase. The goal of the newly created HKU-Pasteur Research Pole (PRP) is to develop novel approaches to confront the challenges posed by infectious diseases that may have devastating effect on public health and the economy of the community. The structure is fully integrated into the Centre of Influenza Research at the university’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine.

“This alliance gives the possibility of maximising visibility, excellence and regional leadership within one of the world’s top universities, while at the same time being part of one of the top international networks in biomedical research,” said Arnaud Barthélémy, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau.

Combined Excellence

 Arnaud Barthélémy
 

Arnaud Barthélémy, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, says the HKU-PRP collaboration is an example of Hong Kong-French partnership

“HKU-PRP combines the excellence of clinical research (HKU) with the excellence of cell biology and basic research (IP),” Mr Barthélémy added. “It participates in complementary regional programmes and international collaborations with a leadership role in the regional networks, and has established an international/regional teaching hub.”

Professor Roberto Bruzzone  
Professor Roberto Bruzzone, Co-Director,
HKU-Pasteur Research Pole, says his team has made “tremendous progress” by identifying some genetic characteristics of the
novel avian H7N9 influenza A virus
 
Professor Roberto Bruzzone, co-Director, HKU-Pasteur Research Pole, said that the HKU-PRP provides superb opportunities and support for outstanding young scientists to establish their reputation and eventually find scientific leadership positions in other public or private research institutions in Hong Kong and around the world.

The centre, Professor Bruzzone said, will focus on burden of diseases in the region, with particular emphasis on influenza and other viruses that are both global and regional threats. He noted that, to date, its 20 staff members have made “tremendous progress” by identifying some genetic characteristics of the novel avian H7N9 influenza A virus, which is constantly evolving. Another important area of research is a detailed description of the mechanisms of host defense after virus infection, opening the window to development of new therapeutic options.

“Our vision is to generate biological knowledge to better understand and treat infectious diseases.  We want to take a long-term approach by bringing together scientists with an interdisciplinary mind who can capitalise on the opportunities offered by the local and international environment provided through HKU and Institut Pasteur,” he said.

Battlefields of Infections

 Professor Christian Brechot
 

Professor Christian Brechot, Director General of Institut Pasteur, visiting Hong Kong for the inauguration of HKU-Pasteur Research Pole

HKU-PRP is positioned to be a regional centre for the study of the interactions between pathogens and host cells, which are “the battlefields of infections,” said Professor Bruzzone. “HKU-PRP can facilitate innovation by working in close collaboration with Institut Pasteur whose critical mass makes it one of the largest research institutions in the world, and with the Institut Pasteur International Network, which comprises 32 institutions around the world, while remaining open to capture new scientific developments.”

The centre’s teaching approach is “unrivalled in the region,” he continued. “We have established a Center of Excellence for Teaching & Training in Biomedical Research that offers a unique annual programme of advanced master classes for post-graduate students and young investigators from around the world.  HKU-PRP’s teaching approach is unique and unrivalled in Hong Kong and in the region. The continuation of this programme will ensure a special status for Hong Kong as a training hub for the future generation of scientists that will fight against human diseases.”

Mr Barthélémy described the example of HKU-PRP as “an initiative to follow,” noting that, as a result, the French National Agency for Research (ANR) and the Hong Kong Research Grant Council (RGC) have established a joint funding scheme. “With an annual global budget of HK$20 million, it is the most important international research scheme in Hong Kong, further strengthening collaboration between French and Hong Kong research communities in areas of mutual interest. To date, seven projects of excellence have been supported in the fields of chemistry, information technology, biology and even humanities,” he said.

Historical Ties

  

Fruitful Liasion

 
  

Hong Kong and France are major economic and business partners. More than 750 French companies are operating in Hong Kong, employing about 33,000 people and generating a turnover of 11billion euros. Among them are 66 regional headquarters of French companies, an increase of 2.7 per cent in the past year. In addition, 450 independent companies have been set up in Hong Kong by French entrepreneurs or investors. 

“Our bilateral trade is thriving, with French firms exporting 4.8 billion euros worth of goods in 2013,” Consul General Arnaud Barthélémy said. “French exports to Hong Kong have more than doubled over the last five years.

He said that the HKU-PRP collaboration fits with the broader goal of French companies partnering and supporting Hong Kong’s efforts in climbing up the value chain and becoming a truly world city.

 

 
Many more opportunities for scientific cooperation between France and Hong Kong are possible in various areas, he continued. Another joint programme between ANR and RGC, called Procore, with an annual global budget of HK$2 million, provides  funding for researchers’ travel between France and Hong Kong. “Since its creation in 1999, this programme benefited about 200 joint projects (about 12 each year) and allowed competency exchanges in all scientific areas.”

Apart from  academic research, other French entities are engaged in R&D efforts in cooperation with Hong Kong, Mr Barthélémy said. An example is Veolia Environmental Services Hong Kong Ltd (VESHK), established in 1990. While operating a number of environmental infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, VESHK is developing new waste management technology.  

Institut Pasteur is a French non-profit private foundation whose mission is to contribute to the prevention and treatment of disease, through research, education and public health. Since its creation by Louis Pasteur in 1887, 10 Institut Pasteur researchers have received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The institute’s historical ties with Hong Kong date back to the end of the19th century when Alexandre Yersin, a student of Louis Pasteur, discovered the bacteria responsible for the Black Death (still known after his name Yersinia pestis) during the 1894 outbreak in Hong Kong.

Related Links
HKU-Pasteur Research Center (HKU-PRC) 
Institut Pasteur  
WISE CITY

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