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Biotech in Hong Kong is on the Rise

5 August 2022

Biotech in Hong Kong is booming

The HKSAR government has selected biotech as one of four key areas that it is supporting over the coming years as part of its strategy to make Hong Kong a technology and innovation hub. But what exactly is biotech and why is it such a vital sector for the new economy? And who are the companies worth watching in Hong Kong?

What is biotechnology?

Biotech is a science-driven industry that focuses on using living organisms and molecular biology to create products for the healthcare sector. Have you been jabbed with one of the vaccines against COVID-19? That is just one example of how biotech creates a product that can have a significant impact on all of us. Outside of medicines and pharmaceuticals, other applications of biotech are in genomics, food production and the production of biofuels. 

Why is Hong Kong such an attractive location for biotech?

Aside from government funding, there are a number of factors that make Hong Kong an attractive location to base a biotech business. For starters, there is a strong base of research-oriented universities to draw on expertise. There is also a strong cluster of world-class research organisations, some of which are based in Hong Kong Technology and Science Park (HKTSP). Hong Kong’s rule of law is also a clear advantage, which gives companies the confidence that their intellectual property will be protected. Meanwhile, the Greater Bay Area project – which connects Hong Kong with Macau and nine cities in southern China – is opening up additional funding for research and manufacturing. 

Biotech start-ups worth watching in Hong Kong

With a rich ecosystem of biotech companies and research organisations, it is not surprising that the Hong Kong start-up scene is thriving. Some of the players that are worth watching include: 

Sanwa Biotech – using ‘Lab-on-Chip’ technology it has created a rapid virus testing device that creates major efficiencies for lab staff.

AIEgen Biotech Co – has developed a range of innovative products using Aggregation-induced emission-based luminogens (AIEgens). 

Vitargent – uses medeka and zebrafish embryos to perform toxicity tests, allowing manufacturers to test whether their products are free of harmful chemicals. 

CircleDNA – is a biotech start-up that leverages Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) technology to create DNA test kits that are able to detect a wide range of diseases. 

Biotheus – Although not strictly a Hong Kong company – it was founded in Zhuhai – Biotheus has set up a major research lab at HKTSP to develop therapeutic antibodies that target cancer and other metabolic diseases.  

Sector boosted by IPOs

Looking ahead, the biotech sector looks set to remain buoyant in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong stock exchange is the second-largest biotech fundraising hub in the world (behind New York’s NASDAQ) and a record number of biotech companies have already been listed during 2021. 

But even for smaller start-ups, which are not yet ready to seek a flotation, there are plenty of opportunities for funding in Hong Kong. Under the government’s Innovation and Technology Fund, a number of programmes would be suitable for emerging biotech companies such as those supporting research and development and the Innovation and Technology Venture fund. So stay tuned for more biotech start-ups to emerge on the tech scene in Hong Kong.

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