Team:Hong Kong HKUST/hp/article/hk


Hong Kong


In this country profile, all the information was obtained from reliable government and official websites. This profile includes information of perception, regulations, researches, funding, market, events, people and organizations about synthetic biology and biotechnology.

In general, synthetic biology and other fields of science are considered less significant in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government does not provide much support to the field of science compared to other fields such as business. Moreover, the awareness of bio-safety issues in Hong Kong is not high among the general public. We hope that this country profile will provide readers information about synthetic biology and biotechnology so that more people understand and review the situation of scientific development in Hong Kong

Synbio Map

SynBio Map identifies and locates companies, universities, research institutions, laboratories and other centers across the globe that are active in the synthetic biology research ("Synthetic biology project," ). It is a good tool to compare the development of synthetic biology all around the world. This map was created by the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In this map, 5 entries are located in Hong Kong. Two of them are in the University of Hong Kong and two are in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, while the remaining one is a private company.

Participation in the iGEM Competition

Universities in Hong Kong have been actively participating in the iGEM competition. Since 2008, out of 9 universities in Hong Kong, 4 took part in the competition.

The four universities are Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). HKUST and HKU are the most active participants of the competition. Both of them joined the competition every year from 2008 to 2012. CUHK joined in since 2010, and HKBU participated in 2009 in cooperation with HKU ("Synthetic biology project,").

Biotechnology Industry

Because of the predominance of market forces and source of capital, biotechnology industry in Hong Kong has been growing in recent years. According to the Innovation and Technology Commission, there are approximately 250 to 300 biotechnology-related companies in Hong Kong. They are mainly related to health-care business such as pharmaceuticals, traditional Chinese medicine, health-care products, and medical devices and diagnostics. These companies work on product research, manufacture, marketing and sales ("Innovation and technology," 2013).

Fascinated by the mature business operation environment and close relationship with China, a market with great potential, more international biotechnology companies are attracted to set their offices in Hong Kong. It is foreseeable that biotechnology industry will be much bigger in the coming future.

Biotechnology Industry Funding

Hong Kong government does invest on biotechnology and scientific researches by providing funding even though the amount is relatively low compared to that of the business sector. They also established the Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) aiming to upgrade Hong Kong’s technological level and promote innovative ideas so as to increase the competitiveness of the economic activities. It provides the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) which grants various technology areas. According to the report on 30th June 2013, HK$ 7.5 billion (around US$ 970 million) was funded to 3376 projects in different technology areas. Among them, HK$ 462.1 million (around US$ 59 million) was invested to support 223 biotechnology projects. The ITF also granted HK$588.3 million (around US$ 76 million) out of total HK$7.5 billion (around US$ 970 million) to the industrial sector of biotechnology (“Innovation Technology,” 2013).

ITC also provided Applied Research Fund which gave funding support to technology ventures and research projects that have commercial potential. In 1993, the government invested HK$ 750 million (around US$ 96 million) to the funds. However, the fund ceased making new investments in the end of March in 2005. In total, HK$ 28.27 million (around US$ 3.6 million) were invested to the field of biotechnology ("Innovation and technology," 2013).

Regulations for Synthetic Biology

Since synthetic biology is not prominent in Hong Kong, there is no law specifically related to it. Also, the Hong Kong government gives less attention to scientific research itself. In fact, there are laws that only govern the derivative products developed from research. If this legislative trend continues, it is foreseeable that the Hong Kong legislation will consider synthetic biology in more detail when there are more commercialized products that are manufactured from the research of synthetic biology.
Currently, there are only laws related to the genetically modified organisms and guidelines for medical products. In order to monitor genetically modified organisms, Hong Kong implemented the Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Documentation for Import and Export) Regulation based on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which is an international agreement aims at ensuring the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMO). Under the ordinance, the importation of LMO to Hong Kong (except for exemptions provided by the exemption notice) with the intention to be released into the environment requires prior approval from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

In terms of bio-safety of cloned animals, according to the Hong Kong Agricultural Biotechnology Annual written by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service, Hong Kong government’s awareness towards risk assessment of cloned animals was not sufficient. Moreover, it is not compulsory to label biotech foods or feeds in Hong Kong. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) in Hong Kong released guidelines for voluntary labeling of biotech foods in 2006 because of the citizens’ urge of informed choices. The guidelines that apply to prepackaged food were constructed by a working groups comprised of members from various sectors including manufacturing, wholesale, retail, consumer groups and government departments. The guidelines mention that it is recommended to include information such as the intended use and presence of animal genes inside a product (Yuen, 2013).

Regulation for medical product is more stringent. If scientists want to apply synthetic biology to develop medical products that have clinical application, they will need to pass all the phases of clinical research. Starting from typical lab test, model organisms test, and finally to human test. Products that pass all these tests are finally allowed to be commercialized.

Perception of Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is not a great interest for the government. The 5 major fields in science that the government announced to actively develop are logistics and supply chain management enabling technologies; nanotechnology and advanced materials; and textiles and clothing. Synthetic biology was not included in this category ("Hong Kong the," 2013).

Also, due to the conspicuous achievement of economy and business sector, science is not the major focus of the Hong Kong government. According to the 2013 Policy Address, there are only three plans slightly related to science field. One of them says that the government will provide software and hardware support for the industry, academia and research sectors to foster co-operation and examine the patent system of research and development results. Since development of innovation and technology is elevated to a very important strategic level in the National 12th Five-Year Plan, Hong Kong, which has a close relationship with China, will also provide more platforms for scientific research collaboration between the Mainland and Hong Kong. This may help improve the people’s awareness to science and may focus more on the sophisticated field like synthetic biology ("HKSAR the 2013," 2013).

According to the speech during the Synthetic Biology 4.0 meeting by Mr. John C. Tsang, the financial secretary of Hong Kong in 2008, the government aimed to make technology a key pillar for shaping Hong Kong as an advanced knowledge-based society. He also mentioned that since the connection between Hong Kong and Mainland China is very close and China is a potential market of new technologies, Hong Kong would like to play an important role in promoting scientific research in Asia. Moreover, Hong Kong has the advantages of free-flowing ideas, strong protection for intellectual property rights and solid law basis. These can provide a fertile environment for creativity and innovation. Therefore, Hong Kong has the potential to develop innovative science and technology ("Press release," 2008).

The public awareness on synthetic biology of Hong Kong citizens was surveyed by the HKUST iGEM 2011 team. The result showed that 44.48% of the respondents reported that they had heard about synthetic biology. The aspects of synthetic biology that the public was most concerned were the scientific processes and techniques (25%), the possible risks (20%) and the claimed benefits (17%). The moral and ethical issues received less attention (9%). The respondents’ overall impression about all the newly developed technologies and the focused biological technologies were both more likely to be positive, but close to neutral. This probably showed a general conservative attitude towards synthetic biology among the general public in Hong Kong ("Synthetic biology survey," 2011).

Reference: The target of this question was the respondent’s major concern or worry about synthetic biology.

This survey, however, might be biased. The team used the internet to conduct the survey, and therefore the respondents were only the people who use the internet regularly. Reference: The target of this question was the respondent’s major concern or worry about synthetic biology
Based on the interview with Professor Albert Yu that our team has conducted, field of synthetic biology is not widely known even among scientist. Only scientists with deeper knowledge in related fields such as systems biology and genetics know about it. This may be due to the fact the synthetic biology is a relatively young field and require understanding and knowledge in multiple disciplines.

Research, People and Organizations

Biotechnology research and development capabilities in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a large capability for biotechnology development. Its biomedical research is already internationally competitive. According to a study conducted by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park Corporation in 2004, the total number of basic medical publications per year was doubled to about 700 between 1997 and 2002. Around 250 biomedical study of high impact is conducted every year at present. Also, in recent years Hong Kong made great scientific contribution in genomic projects, and in identification of infectious diseases such as SARS and avian flu virus.

This kind of development in biotechnology was probably possible in Hong Kong because universities in Hong Kong are actively participating in biotechnology related research. With excellence in scientific innovation and research breakthroughs, Hong Kong’s universities are considered to be some of the best universities in Asia- Pacific region. In fact, out of 9 tertiary institutions, 6 of them are participating in biotechnology related research and have related undergraduate and graduate courses.

Biotechnology infrastructure
A bioinformatics centre and other buildings with shared equipment facilities are now operating in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks. They are there to support the development of biotechnology in Hong Kong. These facilities can be utilized by biotechnology companies for research and development purpose. At present, there are around 50 biotechnology-related occupants in the Science Park and other industrial estates.

Events Related to Synthetic Biology in Hong Kong

Synthetic Biology 4.0 meeting at HKUST
The Fourth International Meeting on Synthetic Biology (SB4.0) was held from 10th to 12th October 2008 at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Researchers in the field of synthetic biology from all around the world gathered in Hong Kong to discuss legal, ethical and social issues involving synthetic biology. They also shared their experiences with each other.

Host of iGEM Asia Jamboree
iGEM competition is a premiere undergraduate synthetic biology competition founded in MIT. It provides platform for high school and university students to gain experience on synthetic biology. Because of the growing number of teams, regional jamboree was established. In 2011 and 2012, the iGEM Asia Jamboree was held in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The 2013 iGEM Asia Jamboree will take place in the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

In previous iGEM Asia Jamborees, there were participants from various countries and regions including China, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong, India and Kazakhstan. Students from all around Asia gathered to share their projects to other students and instructors. A judge panel evaluated each project and selected the outstanding projects to be shared in the iGEM Championship that took place in MIT.


SynBio Map
Synthetic biology project. (2013). Retrieved from
[Web Map]Synthetic Biology Project. (Producer). (2013). SynBio Map. Retrieved from

Participation in the iGEM Competition
Previous iGEM competitions. (2013). Retrieved from

Biotechnology Industry (Market)
Innovation and technology commission: Technology areas. (2013). Retrieved from

Biotechnology Industry Funding
Innovation and Technology Fund. (2013). Retrieved from
Funding Schemes.(2013). Retrieved from
Innovation and technology commission: funding schemes. (2013). Retrieved from
Innovation and technology fund, distribution of approved projects among different technology areas. (2013, June 30). Retrieved from
Innovation and Technology Fund, Distribution of Approved Projects among Different Industrial Sectors. (2013, June 30). Retrieved from
創新及科技基金-科技範疇撥款分佈概覽. (2013, June 30). Retrieved from (Chinese)
香港特別行政區政府-創新科技署. (2013, June 30). 創新及科技基金-產業撥款分佈概覽. Retrieved from (Chinese)

Yuen, C. (2013, July 12). Hong Kong Agricultural Biotechnology Annual. Retrieved from
Agricultures, Fisheries and Conservation Department. (Producer). (2011, Jan ). Genetically Modified Organisms (Control and Release) Ordinance [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

HKSAR the 2013 policy address. (2013). Retrieved from
Hong Kong the fact. (2013, Aug). Retrieved from
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HKG. (Producer). (2013). 2013 Policy Address [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

Research, People and Organization
Innovation and technology commission: Technology areas. (2013). Retrieved from

Events related to synthetic biology in Hong Kong
Our memories. (2013). Retrieved from
Synthetic biology 4.0. (2008). Retrieved from
(2008). Synthetic Biology 4.0 [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from Synthetci biology 4.0. (2008). Retrieved from
iGEM logo [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from