HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s emerging med-tech sector is getting a boost from a government-funded program aimed at sharing technology with other jurisdictions, a program driven in part by the need to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and continue opening regional economies.
Hong Kong has a population of about 7.5 million, but with eight publicly funded universities and almost 20 degree-granting institutions as well as an increasingly active startup environment, it is emerging as a medical technology hub.
The program was jointly launched by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) and the Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB). The effort to share technology started in June with Thailand and the plan is to expand it to Indonesia and Malaysia and other countries in the future.
“The world is working hard to contain the outbreak and to look for innovative technologies and solutions to deal with current and future challenges,” said HKTDC Chairman Peter Lam.
With travel limited for the moment, Hong Kong med-tech companies are using webinars, virtual business-matching meetings with targeted overseas business buyers and government agencies, virtual expos, as well as other platforms to share know-how and technology and reach out to partners.
One company participating in the program is Sanwa Biotech Ltd., one of the first Hong Kong med-tech companies to start searching for a solution for COVID-19.
Sanwa believes that accurate, widespread testing is key to staying one step ahead of the novel coronavirus. The company’s newly developed Alia system is an end-to-end solution that delivers precise testing in 15 minutes under a point-of-care (POC) setting. The system includes an IVD device and a disposable biochip based on a user-friendly microfluidic lab-on-chip technology to auto-process a fluorescent immunoassay on a protein microarray.
“This allows front-line nurses and physicians to conduct rapid testing with an accuracy of around 98 percent without lab support,” a Sanwa spokesperson told BioWorld.
The system includes state-of-the-art internet-of-things (IoT) technology that collects and processes testing data. The system has received $16 million in funding and is the late stages of development. The company expects it will be available for COVID-19 testing by August.
Moving forward, the kit will also be used to test other respiratory and tropical diseases and has received positive feedback from authorities in Thailand.
Another company benefiting from Hong Kong’s outreach effort is Skytech Creations Ltd., which developed a health monitoring system designed to assist different institutions including care centers and schools to monitor users through smart trackers.
Based on the idea that tracking patients is key to controlling outbreaks, the trackers connect to gateways that require WiFi or narrowband-IoT technology, transferring data collected to a designated control platform. This offers health care professionals a powerful tool to locate infected individuals so they can be isolated efficiently and drastically reduce transmission rates.
While the system is powerful, it is unclear whether it can be easily introduced across Asia or parts of Europe or America, which have different privacy rules, or how quickly health care professionals will become familiar with the new technology.
“Tracking apps are helpful, but may be difficult to implement in Europe,” David Poyade, a general practitioner at Hospital Jean-Marcel in France, told BioWorld. “There are a lot of privacy issues that we need to overcome. Making use of big data to create an AI would work much better in preventing a second wave of outbreaks.”
Properly identifying COVID-19 patients has also been a challenge for many countries.
“Most of the tests conducted today are the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test which is often not helpful with a lot of false negative results. It is paramount that we have a quicker and more sensitive test available fast, or all of our hard work may be undone,” added Poyade.