Activity Report

Annual Report 2004

Executive Summary
Since July 2004 the HKU-Pasteur Research Centre (HKU-PRC) has transformed from a bacteriology and molecular biology laboratory to a state of the art equiped virus research laboratory. The centre has hired highly qualified postdoctoral researchers and developed an active research programme with local and interantional collaborations on viral infectious diseases which have an impact on public health in Hong Kong , China and the larger Asian region.

The centre’s activities in the first 18 months were part of a research-driven response of the international scientific community to the 2002/2003 SARS outbreak. The centre’s research resulted in the development of a candidate subunit vaccine against SARS (purified trimeric Spike envelope protein) which is currently tested at the National Institutes of Health as well as the establishment of an antiviral target and drug discovery programme based on state of the art genomic research tools and imaging technology. The centre’s research output on SARS-CoV (maturation and subcellular localisation of structural viral proteins) will allow to foster the understanding of this new human pathogen and help the international scientific community to devise strategies against human coronavirus infections. The bioinformatics research programme BIOSUPPORT is ending in March 2005 and the results of the programme have been judged satisfactory by the Innovation and Technology Commission. Several publications on in silico analyses of antiviral viral strategies have been published as result of a collaboration between the virology and the bionformatics team.

The research programme 2005-2008 comprises an expanded viral disease focus encompassing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and Dengue virus (DV) in addition to SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Although belonging to different families, key events in virus biology (assembly and entry) show striking similarities. The centre’s research programme will be “translational” aiming at the design of therapeutic intervention strategies against HIV, HCV, DV and SARS-CoV.

An academic reearch institute like HKU-PRC can make important contributions to drug discovery by identifying new targets or animal models or analysing original chemistry. We will explore hitherto unidentified molecular mechanisms of virus entry and assembly using state of the art genomics technology (microarray, functional proteomics, siRNA), time lapse microscopy, intrabodies and recombinant virus technology. We expect that this research will result in the discovery of new biological targets for drug discovery. Validated targets will be channeled into a drug discovery/lead discovery programme in collaboration with chemists outside HKU-PRC .

The research programme 2005-2008 will result in the creation of intellectual property for HKU-PRC requiring efficient Institut Pasteur management and technology transfer to the private sector. Institut Pasteur Paris has an excellent international track record in technology transfer, ranking among the top institutes worldwide. The centre will establish tighter links with the business development and technology transfer department of Institut Pasteur by organising a meeting in Hong Kong with its top managers in June 2005.

Innovative research and discovery requires an excellent scientific environment and exchange on the international level . The centre will contribute to enhance the visibility of the centre and the Faculty of Medicine as a scientific place of excellence through organising top level international teaching courses that bring renown international experts to Hong Kong . Following the success of the “1st Pasteur-Asia Virology course”, the centre has launched the “2nd Pasteur-Asia Virology course – Respiratory Viruses” for July 2005 and aims to develop a more ambitious continuous teaching and training programme. The centre will also more actively promote scientific exchange through the “1st Croucher-Pasteur exchange programme” to attract Hong Kong (HKU) students to perform their PhD or post-doctoral research at Institut Pasteur.