Leo Poon: “We still have a lot to learn about vaccine”

HKU-Pasteur celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it is the occasion to show you a little bit more about the people who make this lab a major research pole on infectious diseases, an innovative teaching center and a very special place for us all!


Today, meet Professor Leo Poon, the co-director of HKU-Pasteur Research Pole since July 2020. Prof Poon has been actively involved in several major public health incidences caused by zoonotic coronavirus transmissions, such as SARS, MERS and COVID-19. His lab has used different approaches to understand these spill over events, and many of the assays they developed have been used in these public health crises:


“I wanted to be a scientist since I was a secondary school boy. I researched on influenza virus in my doctoral training in the UK. During this training, there was a H5N1 outbreak in my hometown, Hong Kong. That was my calling in career. I came back to Hong Kong right after my DPhil training and started to conduct influenza virus research in HKU in 2001. Then, SARS appeared in 2003. As a molecular virologist, I tried to use my expertize to identify the etiological cause of this disease. With the support from my colleagues, I managed to identify a RNA fragment of SARS-CoV. That was the starting point of my coronavirus research.


I use reverse genetic techniques to generate virus mutants for phenotypic characterizations. For example, I have been studying parameters that can allow animal influenza viral polymerase to achieve robust viral RNA synthesis in mammalian cells. Findings from these studies help to explain how a zoonotic virus can better adapt in a new host species.


One should remember that all diseases are different. In addition, all of us are different as well. I would say we still have a lot to learn about vaccine. We might have some basic ideas to explain why vaccine works, but we still do not have a full understanding on this topic. For example, although influenza vaccine has been used for decades, there are still a lot of gaps in it. It will take a long time for science to address each of these gaps. In short, our existing knowledge might allow us to develop some vaccines with a reasonable protective effect in a short time. However, they are not perfect.”





To know more about the research he conducts at HKU-Pasteur and other researchers from the Pole, browse the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole 20th Anniversary Book, 60 pages tracing back 20 years of research, teaching, activities and more!