The logo of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is seen at its headquarters in Hamburg. The company is to build a facility in Hong Kong. Photo: dpa
by SCMP Editorial
by SCMP Editorial

R&D plans by drug giant AstraZeneca shot in arm for Hong Kong’s biomedical hub bid

  • AstraZeneca decision follows Hong Kong labs move by UN vaccine body and Cambridge University

Hong Kong’s ambitious plans to become a regional innovation and biomedical hub have received a welcome boost.

In the past two weeks, drug giant AstraZeneca said it would have a research base up and running here as soon as late next year, and the city will host research laboratories linked to the United Nations and a British university to produce vaccines for new infectious diseases.

AstraZeneca’s new R&D facility to develop cell and gene therapies will be the first of its kind to be established in the city by one of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies.

The Anglo-Swedish drug maker on Friday said some 100 people would eventually work at the premises in the Lok Ma Chau Loop technology hub, near the mainland border.

Drug giant AstraZeneca to open Hong Kong R&D centre by late 2024 at earliest

The previous week, Hong Kong learned that it would host research labs linked to the UN’s International Vaccine Institute based in South Korea and the University of Cambridge.

The operation will reportedly be set up next year at the University of Hong Kong as part of the establishment of a Global Health Institute.

In his October policy address, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said the city must be more prepared for emerging infectious diseases. Lee revealed the Hong Kong Jockey Club had stepped forward with HK$3 billion, some of which would go towards setting up the institute.

It is the latest example of the city’s good fortune to have private sector support often before public funds can be marshalled.

The new institute will also link up with mainland vaccine laboratories and Zhong Nanshan, a veteran Guangzhou respiratory disease expert.

Such collaboration heralds the benefits to be expected not only in the city, but also across the Greater Bay Area development zone that aims to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities.

A different kind of education? Hong Kong’s plans for a third medical school

Health minister Lo Chung-mau said the institute would act as a central hub for research, development and translation to ensure “equitable distribution for life-saving vaccines” worldwide.

Welcoming AstraZeneca’s plans, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said firms that developed life technologies were drawn to the advantages of the city, including its robust talent pool, fundraising capabilities as an international financial centre and government policy support.

AstraZeneca was among more than 30 foreign and mainland companies that recently pledged to invest HK$30 billion in the city, a feather in the cap for the authorities’ Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises, which coordinated the effort.

Recent progress is encouraging and is just the tonic for Hong Kong as it seeks to reach its goal of becoming an important international centre for life-saving treatments.