Activity Report

Annual Report 2006

Executive Summary
Since January 2006, HKU-Pasteur Research Centre has actively developed its research, teaching and network activities. Important milestones have been achieved which bring HKU-PRC into a new phase of development.

The first axis of research on identification of novel cellular targets have yielded very promising results and have been strongly reinforced. The “Virus-Host Interactions” unit has been created (Head: Dr. Beatrice Nal-Rogier). A first milestone is the identification of a family of cytoskeleton-binding proteins as novel regulators of virus infection. The results obtained initially on SARS-CoV have encouraged the team to expand its research approach (large-scale genomic approaches like yeast-2-hybrid (Y2H) and siRNA library screens) to identify cellular regulators for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) infections. Key collaborations have been set up with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and French Institutes. Two post-doctoral fellows and two Ph.D. students have been hired.

An important milestone in the HKU-PRC research programme on immunity against viral infections has been efficiently reached. A publication in the Vaccine journal entitled “Antibodies against trimeric S protein protect hamsters against SARS-CoV challenge despite their capacity to mediate Fcg RII-dependent entry into B cells ” marks the finalization of the SARS vaccine study.

The HKU-PRC screening platform, still actively implicated in drug discovery projects, has broaden its interests to sero-epidemiology studies for immuno-surveillance and diagnosis of HPAI infections. Three principal achievements must be considered : 1/ the finalization of the screening campaign for HIV-1 post-entry inhibitors, 2/ the completion of the first phase of the screening campaign for inhibitors of H5-influenza entry, 3/ the establishment of a serological diagnosis test of H5-influenza infections. Strategic collaborations are fundamental for these projects. The Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica (SIMM) is a key partner for HKU-PRC drug screening activities. Pr. Malik Peiris (HKU, Department of Pathology) and Dr. Philippe Buchy and Jean-Louis Sarthou (IP Cambodia) are active collaborators for the HPAI sero-epidemiology studies.

A new dimension has been given to collaborations, more particularly through the RESPARI programme and the common objective of Asian Pasteur Institutes to fight against HPAI. This programme has received an important funding from the French Ministry of Health (2.5M euros including 3.9M HK$ for HKU-PRC ). HKU-PRC plays a strategic role in the RESPARI programme by focusing on 3 objectives: development of new diagnostic tools, identification of novel cellular targets and drugs and teaching.

Three declarations of invention have been filled with the Patent Office of Institut Pasteur Paris (IPP). One publication has been accepted and several manuscripts are in preparation for publications.

Finally, the 3rd Pasteur-Asia Virology Course on “Antiviral Strategies” held in July 2006 was again a success. Twenty seven selected talented students from 5 Asian countries participated and 35 scientists came from all over the world to share their expertises. Considering the success of the Virology course, HKU-PRC aims to develop a more ambitious continuous teaching and training programme. The centre has also actively promoted scientific exchange through the “2nd Pasteur-Croucher Exchange Programme” to attract Hong Kong students to perform their Ph.D or post-doctoral research at Institut Pasteur.

The centre’s financial situation is stabilized through the triennium allocation from the university (18.3M HK$, ie. 6.1M HK$ per annum). External grants obtained through Institut Pasteur Paris (IPP) and dedicated to HKU-PRC amount to 6.5M HK$. In 2006, HKU-PRC has received 3.9M HK$ from the French Ministry of Health, 1.8M HK$ from the Li Ka Shing Foundation (through IPP), 800K HK$ from IPP and 750K HK$ from the Hong Kong Health, Welfare and Food Bureau (total of 7.25M HK$).