The major global health challenges we face today, ranging from emerging infectious diseases and pandemics and antimicrobial resistance to environmental pollution and the impending adverse effects from climate change, all require multidisciplinary and multi-national responses. They also require an intimate understanding of the inter-relationships between human health, animal health and our ecosystems.
Since its inception, the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole has been committed to conducting multidisciplinary research projects that increase knowledge and promote transformative discoveries to improve the health of populations most affected by infectious disease epidemics.
The scientific trajectory of HKU-Pasteur owes much to the unique scientific environment within the School of Public Health at HKUMed, which over the past two decades has coordinated two major multi-disciplinary research programs spanning the animal-human interface. These programs aim to enhance global public health by identifying the viral and host determinants of influenza virus transmission (between humans and from animals to humans) and pathogenesis, leading to evidence-based interventions. They have involved researchers from multiple disciplines in the Faculties of Medicine, Engineering and Chemistry at HKU, and collaborators at other universities in Hong Kong, the Institut Pasteur International Network and other research institutes and universities worldwide.
Although the focus of this research has been influenza, its multidisciplinary nature has resulted in enhanced capacity to confront other emerging viral pathogens, such as SARS, MERS and COVID-19. This has been evident most recently in the impressive research produced by scientists in the School of Public Health and HKU-Pasteur on COVID-19, which have rapidly provided methods for detecting the virus and monitoring antibody responses.
Their investigations of the modes of virus transmission as compared to SARS in 2003, and the duration of infectiousness, influenced policy on the discharge of patients from hospital isolation. They have also started filling knowledge gaps on the biology of SARS-CoV-2 by producing data on the stability of the virus in the environment, creating experimental animal models, and estimating the duration of antibody responses and the systems biology of the host response to this novel pathogen.
Today, HKU-Pasteur provides superb opportunities and support for outstanding young scientists to achieve excellence in fundamental research and its applications, while also delivering an advanced teaching and training program. HKU-Pasteur’s dual affiliation heightens its visibility and attractiveness to brilliant students and young scientists, who are recruited from around the world to join our lab and courses.
These questions are probed under the direction of 6 Group Leaders and a staff of 45-50 people of more than 10 nationalities. Thanks to its membership in the Institut Pasteur International Network, which links 32 institutes around the world through the same missions and values, HKU-Pasteur has access to a remarkable collection of human, animal, vector, and pathogen samples from all parts of the world.
HKU-Pasteur also leads a number of global projects
Roberto Bruzzone is the Chair of the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium, a network of networks that aims to ensure clinical researchers have the open access protocols and data-sharing processes needed to facilitate a rapid response to emerging diseases.
Leo Poon, the new Co-Director of the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole, serves on WHO working groups for the diagnostics of influenza and COVID-19 and assisted over 70 countries to establish diagnostic capacity in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malik Peiris, Honorary Director, continues to serve on a number of WHO working groups in relation to both influenza and coronaviruses and is the Co-Director of the WHO reference laboratories for H5 influenza and COVID-19 at HKU.
The development of a cluster of excellence on respiratory and emerging viruses within a global network has enabled the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole to exploit the translational potential arising from its scientific discoveries.
This long-term strategy has borne fruit with the establishment of a Center for Immunology & Infection at the Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks, a new chapter in the partnership between HKU and the Institut Pasteur, which will open in 2021.
Many key questions about the emergence, transmission and pathogenesis of seasonal viruses, such as influenza and pandemic ones such as the new SARS-CoV-2, remain unanswered. With its strategic location, HKU-Pasteur is well placed to be at the forefront of an early warning and response system to emerging infectious diseases, and thus to fulfill its core mission.