According to a recent press release, a student at the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) in the Master of Science program in Advanced Information Systems, has developed voice-control computer software for severely disabled people in spite of his own physical and speech disabilities.
The software, named “Cerebral Palsy to Joy (CP2Joy)”, is the first human-computer interface for severely disabled people in Hong Kong. It will enable those with severe disabilities to use the internet on their own, thereby reducing the digital divide.
The student is one of the Top 10 Regeneration Warriors recognised by the Regeneration Society in 2013-14. He plans to share a trial software with a local special school with the aim of benefitting more users in need.
The student was born with Cerebral Palsy, a disorder caused by brain damage that affects speech and muscle movement. Due to his condition, he can only type on a keyboard with one finger, producing one to two Chinese characters a minute.
To help address the difficulties he faces with typing, he developed CP2Joy which mainly uses voice commands to control the computer and minimises physical movement of the user.
The student noted that the programme needs only a joystick – that is frequently equipped on most modern wheelchairs – and the built-in microphone of a personal computer. It requires much less physical movement to operate when compared to a traditional mouse and keyboard, making it ideal for use by a disabled person.
When building the software, the student deliberately designed a “rolling character interface” which enables a user to quickly pick alphabets by applying a simple pre-recorded voice command (for example, pronouncing the sound “uh”).
A user can also use voice commands to represent a mouse action such as “double click”, “move the cursor” or “move the cursor to a designated mark on a computer screen”. The design enables the user to “type” accurately and efficiently with minimal motion.
The student’s practicum supervisor, an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at HKBU, stated that the internet has become an essential part of our daily lives. However, those with disabilities encounter a lot of difficulties when it comes to using a traditional computer, which is equipped with a keyboard and a mouse, owing to their limited body and muscle movement. This includes disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Tetraplegic and Muscular Atrophy patients.
The professor noted that there are a variety of systems made for disabled people, such as on-screen keyboards, gesture control systems and eye-tracking systems, but these systems are often too stringent for severely disabled patients. He added that some of the existing systems are expensive, placing such equipment out of the financial reach of those with disabilities.
Tailor-made systems for individual patients can be even more costly and stringent. In contrast, CP2Joy uses easily accessible hardware.
With the assistance of staff from the HKBU Centre for Innovative Service-Learning, the student will trial run CP2Joy in a special school with the aim of extending the system to more users in need.
The CP2Joy project is an integrated and collaborative joint project from the Department of Computer Science, the Centre for Innovative Service-Learning and the School of Business at HKBU.
The Victoria University of Wellington’s division of Science, Health, Engineering, Architecture, and Design Innovation (SHEADI) will inaugurate a Centre of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in the first half of 2023.
According to a statement from the University, the centre will offer areas of expertise in modelling and statistical learning; evolutionary and multi-objective learning; deep learning and transfer learning; image, text, signal, and language processing; scheduling and combinational optimisation; and interpretable AI/ML learning.
These technological themes will be applied across a wide range of areas including primary industry, climate change and environment; health, biology, medical outcomes; security, energy, high-value manufacturing; and social, public policy, and ethics applications. On top of traditional research, the centre will also establish a pipeline of scholarships/internships for Maori students, train early career researchers, and focus on industry, intellectual property, and commercialisation.
The centre will build on the current success and international leadership in this space at the University, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the division, Ehsan Mesbahi, stated. The institute is continuing to grow its national and international partnerships to create local and global value. The centre will provide a distinctive identity for the growing excellence and innovation in data science and AI research at the University, capabilities which domestic and global partners are increasingly demanding across a vast array of application domains.
In May, the University announced it would offer the first undergraduate major in Artificial Intelligence in the country. It provides students with knowledge of AI concepts, techniques, and tools. They learn how to apply that knowledge to solve problems, combined with programming skills that will enable them to build software tools incorporating AI technology that will help shape the future.
Students studying AI at the University are taught by academics from its internationally renowned AI/ML research group, which is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. The major is designed to open doors for graduates to opportunities nationally and around the world. There has been an increase in the adoption of AI technologies globally, and a growing demand for people who can apply AI techniques to address a wide range of problems, which the University aims to address.
After completing their degree, graduates will have a wide variety of career options, such as AI scientist, business consultant, AI architect, data analyst, machine learning engineer, and robotic scientist among others. They will also have the option to further their study through the University’s Master of Artificial Intelligence.
OpenGov Asia reported earlier that New Zealand’s Education Technology (EdTech) is set to become one of the country’s key industries. Worth NZ$ 173.6 million in 2020, EdTech software is poised to grow to NZ$ 319.6 million by 2025. At the heart of the digital transformation of education technology has been the pandemic. COVID-19 is seen as the driving force behind the digital transformation of learning, permanently changing the way education is consumed and delivered — right from preschool through post-tertiary education and lifelong learning. The global EdTech market size was valued at US$ 254.8 billion in 2021. Experts believe the market will reach US$ 605.4 billion by 2027.
Two tech companies operating within Hong Kong’s Smart Government Innovation Lab announced the roll-out of solutions that are now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.
Solution I – AI Autonomous Disinfection Robot
The solution, called Bubble Fish, is a disinfection robot that can effectively purify the air and precisely eliminate the coronavirus as well as a variety of common epidemic bacteria. It is equipped with a precise radar for automatic navigation and obstacle avoidance, based on the construction and data communication.
Robots can connect through a phone application, realise the transparency of work data (this includes disinfection logs, machine states, etc.), database storage, and remote control the robot. With this system, users can manage and trace the current and previous disinfection work in a closed loop.
The solution was developed to be applied across the areas of City Management, Commerce and Industry, Development, Education, Employment and Labour, Environment, Housing, Recreation and Culture, Social Welfare as well as Transport.
The solution employs the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The disinfection robot can be set to schedule and after the disinfection tasks are finished, the robot will be returned to the charger automatically. In this way, disinfection tasks can be conducted when the user needs them and the robot can be operational for 24 hours. Employing the disinfection robot can reduce the costs of janitor head counts and a janitor can be shifted to other cleaning tasks. Thus, productivity, efficiency and cleanliness would be increased.
Solution II – Certificate Creation and Authentication Management System
The second solution is a Certificate Creation and Authentication Management System. The process of certificate-making and issuance consists of the following pain points:
- Certificate issued by the institution
Traditionally, when issuing certificates, it is necessary to first design the content. This includes the trademark and certificate, which is usually handed over to the designer. After the design is completed, it is handed over to the printing factory to set the quantity and generate inventory. More certificate types will generate more inventory. To print the inventory certificate, the applicant’s name, date, and certificate number must be entered. Then, this is sent to the applicant via mail or self-pickup.
This process results in the wastage of paper, film, time, and money. The process of third-party verification inquiry and certificate re-issuance also requires labour to ensure that the certificates of institutions and brands will not be plagiarised.
- Certificate applicant
For most courses, exams, and activities it is very unlikely the certificate will be received on the same day. For lost documents, an applicant will need to file for a reissue, and store all previous certificates.
- Third-party verification
If the authenticity of the certificate cannot be identified, it needs to be checked with the issuing authority, and the result cannot be known immediately.
Thus, aimed at addressing these three pain points, the company has developed a set of clear, convenient, and practical ideas. This innovative approach can make the three aspects more coordinated. The following are the key points of change in the eCertApp:
- Certificate Management System
This application streamlines issuance, verification, storage and sharing. Each certificate is independently coded, and the block certificate has a fast authentication function. It can also convert old paper certificates into smart certificates, systematically archive them, reduce workload, and change the global traditional paper certificate issuance and verification ecology.
- Certificate collector
The company’s certificate platform cooperates with mobile applications. Through this, users can apply for and receive certificates issued by multiple institutions, store them permanently, never lose the certificates, facilitate management, and share them with people who may be interested at any time.
- Third-party Verifier
A QR code is assigned for code scanning and NFC authentication for quick authentication. All certificate codes are unique, and it takes less than a second to check the authenticity of the certificate, the background of the organisation’s registration and contact information.
This two-dimensional code is a non-contact way of using quick response code, while two-dimensional code (QR Code) and NFC use “near field communication” tags and radio frequency technology to implant chips into products without damaging their appearance. The encryption program can read the authenticity of the product and transfer it to the product owner.
The solution was developed to be applied across the areas of City Management, Development, Education, Employment and Labour, Environment, Health, Infrastructure, Law, and Security as well as Recreation and Culture.
The solution employs the latest in Blockchain, Cloud Computing and Mobile Technologies.
The Platform has a wide range of uses. In addition to certificates, it can also be used for certification documents, recommendation letters, membership cards, certificates with expiration dates, including product repair and warranty certificates, product certificates, ownership transfers and the app will update users when an expiration date is reached.
The platform can set up and open multiple branches and administrators and can manage certificates for each branch worldwide. Moreover, all future and currently issued certificates and design templates can be managed through an at-a-glance dashboard.
Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in education have the potential to enhance how education is provided, financed, and managed as well as offer easier access to the community.
A PPP system operates under the construct that market mechanisms, in conjunction with government inputs, are better for providing education. One of the rationales behind PPPs, which are supported by international organisations, development agencies and academics, is that competition between public and private education providers is a good way to improve the quality and efficiency of education.
PPP policy frameworks should therefore create real market dynamics in which education service providers continue to innovate and improve the quality of their services to attract learners, young and old, who are seen as benefit maximisers and well-informed consumers.
New Era of Partnerships, Building Talent Pipeline
“The structure and framework for any university to launch degree programmes can be fairly onerous, given the emphasis on quality assurance and relevance,” says Annie who is also a Professor Emeritus of Finance (Practice), Lee Kong Chian School of Business and Senior Advisor at the Business Families Institute in Singapore Management University (SMU).
However, academic-industry partnerships play a crucial role in building the future of students and facilitating the transition of young people from school to work. Students need to be exposed to a variety of jobs and workplaces to develop interest and discover where their studies and passion may lead.
Industry partnerships with different sectors offer a variety of experiences, such as simulated job interviews, career development activities, challenge-based learning projects, curriculum-aligned activities, and work-study programmes. In addition, internships have become a vital opportunity for candidates to distinguish themselves prior to full-time employment.
A PPP is mutually beneficial, allowing industry access to fresh talent and looking at the industry’s challenges from the perspective of future consumers or employees acknowledges Annie. In fact, the private sector has indicated to all institutions that they need future talent in the area of data analytics, so SMU has recently launched a track in data analytics hosted in both their business school and computer and info systems school so universities also benefit from the insights from the industry to stay relevant in our curricula.
With the help of data analytics tools, a company may take unstructured raw data and use this information to discover patterns, draw conclusions and turned into useful insights. Therefore, data analysis aids businesses in so many ways, including making educated judgments, developing a more successful marketing plan, enhancing the customer experience and streamlining processes.
Education is not only under the charge of the Ministry of Education but also needs the support of other ministries since future jobs and capacity building are expected of the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Maritime, Health and others. Partnering with the whole of government allows for students’ skillsets to be increased and all students become more relevant, valuable and workplace ready.
Prof Annie knows that no one has a monopoly on knowledge, and no one knows the exact skills which will be needed in the future. Thus, PPPs have the most value when it forms a part of “lifelong learning.”
The exciting thing about lifelong learning, Annie believes “…is that when you get your degree, you think you’re done, but you’re just getting started. Even as you gain experience and learn on the job, you’ll need to keep reinventing yourself and the skills needed to extend your runway will keep changing.”
Passion extends beyond degrees and ongoing learning is a crucial element to keep employees engaged That’s why higher education now permits a variety of pathways to marry passion with career aspirations and is no longer a paper chase, she explains.
Two good cases to illustrate the value of PPP in the context of SMU’s innovative programmes that Prof Annie is very proud of are the partnership approach in launching the International Trading track and the Maritime Business Operations track under the Finance and Operations majors in SMU’s business school.
In accordance with the creation of a strong Singaporean core, wholesale trade and maritime businesses have been focusing on both skillset development and attracting new talent supply to ensure a pipeline of sustainable human capital. So, the trading and maritime sectors do need to build a case for making the jobs in their sectors more appealing – particularly with the assistance of government grants and scholarships.
Companies can play a crucial role by showing how an organisation can provide a feeling of purpose with support and development opportunities available to make building a career in their organisations appealing and attractive to the candidate
A part of Annie’s challenge in the early days was to set up an International Trading Institute (ITI) where students could take for-credit classes under the business school and get a certificate of completion for the non-credit practice-oriented sessions, learning from practitioners in the evenings.
“My goal at SMU is to link external relevance to internal degree requirements while upholding the quality assurance requirements of the education system. Different industry partners help us with this mission to co-create and deliver the applied learning content with us.”
SMU is therefore a strategic asset for the country and both the tracks had, over the last decade, created a pool of more than 300 alumni who are knowledgeable about wholesale trading, largely in the commodities trading space and maritime operations. Now, there is available talent who are able to speak and work with more confidence up and down the trade value chain and contribute to Singapore’s relevance as a trade and maritime hub.
Another great example of PPP was manifested during the last three years of the COVID-19 crisis which saw a spate of job cuts and many experienced PMETs were laid off. Annie worked with her teams at ITI and BFI to design a nine-month Business and Digital Transformation programme which combined in-class training modules with a capstone project for candidates who are matched to SMEs to also deliver a project for these sponsoring companies. Candidates have a chance to learn and apply the knowledge and sponsoring companies also benefit from the capstone projects delivered. In addition, 70% to 90% of the programme fees are supported by SSG grants, while WSG grants provide funding support towards the candidates’ commensurate salaries.
All these partnerships were possible because a pool of companies is available and can be accessed to match the candidates as a result of SMU’s external network of trusted companies, which was strengthened by the BFI that Annie had set up 10 years ago with the support of SMU’s senior leadership. Many of Asia’s SMEs are family owned with different sets of challenges and aspirations other than the usual business issues. In addition, many of these business families have longer horizons and they are the ones that countries depend on to build businesses sustainably as they think beyond current generations.
Therefore, business families with an entrepreneurial spirit, not only make money but also contribute to changing the world through their businesses and other new ventures, including building social enterprises and philanthropic activities.
By addressing business family-specific issues such as succession, family governance, entrepreneurship and wealth management, BFI aims to strengthen the ecosystem of entrepreneurial business families and stakeholders in their creation of sustainable impact by leveraging SMU’s core competence as a thought leader. In turn, BFI has been a strong partner to the LKYGBPC. Many of LKYGBPC’s sponsors are family-owned businesses, such as Wilmar International and Frasers.
In addition, many of these family enterprises have footprints beyond Singapore and are always on the lookout for quality start-ups to invest in or be part of their accelerator programmes. Innovation is essential for a company to improve its operations, introduce new and enhanced products and services to the market, raise its efficiency, and most crucially, boost its profitability.
Annie feels that her journey in academia is more about building entrepreneurship and Technology, Talent and Trust (3Ts) are important drivers in helping companies in their transformation journeys. As such, public-private-people partnerships are even more relevant in today’s challenging and uncertain times to build back better and broader for everyone.
According to Annie, the road to digital and business transformation success is paved with courageous actions by caring and forward-looking leaders. The right leaders will build a firm sustainably and attract the right people, the right leaders will inspire and motivate the right people to learn, improve and grow.
“Developing people is my calling but learning to develop people is everyone’s responsibility. And because the world is bigger than yourself, you need to be big-hearted, purpose-oriented, and have an open mind to be successful on any path you choose,” Annie concludes.
Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) and an IT service management company jointly launched the “Idea Launcher” co-ideation initiative to foster and accelerate innovation and technology (I&T) development in Hong Kong through extensive support, mentoring and coaching to help early-stage start-ups nurture innovative ideas and research projects.
The project is another addition to HKTSP’s co-incubation mission with sector leaders, with the Idea Launcher being the first partnership with a corporate leader under HKSTP’s IDEATION Programme. The IT service management company collaborate closely with HKSTP to specifically support the development of early-stage ideas from emerging start-ups and next-generation entrepreneurs.
The Idea Launcher continues the strategic collaboration that the two parties began earlier this year, covering the four key pillars of Research & Development, Technology Simulation, Co-incubation, and Talent and Culture Cultivation. It is a six-month co-ideation initiative that provides early-stage start-ups and entrepreneurs with technical training, business consulting, capabilities assessment as well as project feasibility to optimise start-up solutions and concepts.
HKSTP will offer HK$ 100,000 in seed funding and incubation training to selected start-ups, while the IT service management company will provide tailor-made AWS innovation culture workshops to help start-ups build up their innovation capacity. Programme participants will also receive up to US$ 25,000 in the IT service management company’s cloud resources, as well as technical support and training through their Program, set up especially to help start-ups optimise their business models and fuel future development.
The Head of Business Development at the IT service management company’s Hong Kong and Macau branch stated that with its established start-up ecosystems and investment development teams in Hong Kong and beyond, the firm gathers talent with investment institution backgrounds and entrepreneurial experience that is geared to supporting start-ups throughout their growth cycle. He noted that the company looks forward to deepening its partnership with HKSTP to advance local start-ups and propel Hong Kong on its journey to international I&T hub status.
The Chief Corporate Development Officer of HKSTP stated in partnering with one of the world’s largest and most iconic start-ups, HKSTP is ready to elevate Hong Kong’s talented entrepreneurs onto the global stage.
About the IDEATION programme
The IDEATION programme was launched by HKSTP in 2019, furthering its support for early-stage research and development projects and innovative ideas. Well-received in the start-up community, the number of participating members and teams in the programme has more than tripled from 60 to over 230.
Start-ups will receive help turning realising their ideas and beginning their entrepreneurial journeys with the Ideation Programme – an up to one-year start-up support programme for tech-focused entrepreneurs. Through the programme, participants can develop the fundamental skills they need to kickstart their businesses. All-round support will be provided from designing a business model to finding investment. Participants will receive guidance along every step of the way, to fine-tune their ideas for technical development.
The programme provides seed funding in the form of a grant worth up to HK$ 100,000; a mentor for business advice; training on a variety of topics including Hong Kong’s start-up ecosystem, business modelling, pitching and investment, and more; access to centre facilities like co-working spaces (subject to availability), and potential to bridging programmes which means participants will be prepared for admission into other HKSTP incubation programmes.
At the Launch Ceremony of the national system of Policy Research Centre for Innovation and Technology (PReCIT)” as one of the PolyU’s 85th Anniversary celebratory events, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) hosted the “Forum on Integrating I&T into GBA. PReCIT is a University-level interdisciplinary policy research centre with the aspiration to be the leading I&T think tank in Hong Kong and the region.
Some 300 staff, students, alumni, leaders from I&T, finance, academia and guests gathered to exchange views on how Hong Kong can proactively integrate into the Nation’s development plan.
The Secretary for Innovation, Technology, and Industry, HKSAR Government stated that the new Policy Research Centre for Innovation and Technology will play a key role in facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration for more impactful research, in the I&T field.
PolyU’s President stated the establishment of PReCIT is just another timely step taken by the University to respond to key national strategies that unleash unlimited opportunities for Hong Kong’s future development.
The Vice President (Research and Innovation) and Director of PReCIT introduced the Centre’s background and three major research foci – carbon-neutral cities, the Greater Bay Area I&T development, and the Belt and Road Initiative development in Southeast Asia, with a view to dovetailing with the National 14th Five Year Plan in supporting Hong Kong to develop into an international I&T hub.
He stated that the respective strengths of Hong Kong and the mainland must complement each other in deliberation on cross‑boundary integration proposals which aim to foster R&D commercialisation to unleash the potentials of the GBA and Belt and Road economies as well as the opportunity associated with re‑industrialisation. To achieve this, a cross‑boundary policy on I&T cooperation including regarding the flows of I&T material, capital, data and people between Hong Kong and mainland provinces is needed. PReCIT, as the advocacy body of PolyU, endeavours to formulate strategies that support Hong Kong’s participation in the national pioneering technology missions.
The Co-Founder of the Greater Bay Area Association of Academicians; the President of the Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences; the Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries; and the Senior Vice President and Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute, Our Hong Kong Foundation, were invited to share their insights, ahead of the announcement of the Hong Kong I&T Development Blueprint, in the panel discussion session moderated by
The Co-Founder of the Greater Bay Area Association of Academicians shared his experiences in cooperating with the innovation and technology sector on the mainland. He reiterated that it is important for the HKSAR government to work together with stakeholders, especially experts and the capital market, to advance I&T development.
The President of the Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences called on the government to set an R&D policy direction that supports the Nation’s development. He also suggested Hong Kong and other cities in the GBA together establish an intellectual property exchange platform for university researchers to present their research outcomes and attract further funding.
Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries explained how Hong Kong serves as an industrial and I&T headquarters in connecting the GBA and ASEAN for research commercialisation and empowering advanced manufacturing, capitalising on the City’s strengths in the industry chain and as a financial centre.
The Senior Vice President and Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute, Our Hong Kong Foundation stressed that joint cross-border policy initiatives are needed to overcome barriers to deepening market access and facilitating movements of factors of production.
Finally, the Head of the Department of Applied Social Sciences and Co-Director of PReCIT concluded that concerted effort from all sectors of the community is essential to provide a sustainable and supportive environment for high-calibre and potential I&T talents to be persuaded to stay in Hong Kong.
The Australian National University (ANU) is hosting a new training centre aimed at upskilling the next generation of researchers in cutting-edge 3D imaging and analysis technology to help repair bones, safely store CO2, deactivate viruses on surfaces and recycle car parts among a range of critical applications.
The ARC Training Centre for Multiscale 3D Imaging, Modelling and Manufacturing, M3D Innovation, is using a “disruptive” digital imaging, analysis, modelling and manufacturing technology developed at ANU for more than 15 years.
The micro-imaging technology provides users with 3D “supervision” into a range of materials at scales ranging from metres to 10 nanometres – a measurement 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
The technology was originally developed by a team of researchers with M3D Innovation Director, Professor Mark Knackstedt, who has won a Eureka Prize as well as an ENI award – the ‘Nobel prize’ for energy resources research – for his innovation.
He noted that the aim is to gather researchers from ANU and Queensland University of Technology, 15 industry partners and end users to harness the ‘super-power’ of advanced imaging and analysis technologies. He added that a vibrant research training environment is being built and a workforce that is expert in applying the new technology to a range of new industry sectors is being created. Moreover, PhD students and early career researchers in industrial collaboration and commercialisation are being mentored.
Already, incredible strides have been made through a range of exciting projects. This includes using the technology to investigate green steel production via hydrogen-based processes; safely storing CO2 in aquifers to fight climate change, recycling car parts for a circular economy, regenerating bones with biodegradable scaffolds and designing custom bone implants.
Partners at QUT have developed new technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, using etching techniques to roughen surfaces to deactivate bacteria and viruses. This is a technique that could be used to deactivate COVID-19 on metal surfaces in hospitals and clinical settings.
M3D Innovation is funded by the Australian Government under the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme. Professor Knackstedt said they are grateful for the Australian Government’s investment and support for this important field of science and for the translation to industry partners.
ANU and Australia are world leaders in this space. Their work at M3D Innovation will boost the country’s capacity and deliver new graduates and researchers with critical skills and knowledge across novel manufacturing, modelling and imaging.
The global 3D imaging market size was valued at US$25.7 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.2% from 2022 to 2030. 3D imaging is the procedure of rendering a three-dimensional image to create the optical illusion of depth.
During the 3D imaging process, two or more motion cameras are employed to capture a three-dimensional object for these 3D images to be produced. High-resolution images are created by combining 3D image sensors, cameras, and screens. As a result, 3D imaging is widely used in hospitals, the entertainment industry, architecture, construction, and automotive.
While the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted market growth, ongoing technological developments in the field of 3D imaging and the widespread adoption of and need for 3D imaging systems in different sectors are expected to drive the market in the coming future.
The growing prevalence of chronic diseases worldwide coupled with increased awareness of the benefits of 3D imaging technology are also factors contributing to the growth in demand for 3D imaging solutions.
A team of synthetic biologists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) discovered a new method that could increase the production efficiency of synthetic mRNAs by up to 10 times. This means the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines and drugs – including those used against cancer, Covid-19, or other genetic diseases – will be boosted with an even lower dosage of the mRNAs.
mRNAs can be synthesized to teach our cells how to make a variety of proteins, including antigens, enzymes, and hormones. These are essential in fighting infections and regulating bodily functions. Thus, mRNA is a preferred option for vaccines and treatment for many distinct kinds of diseases.
However, high dosages and repeated injections are often required for mRNA drugs and vaccines to generate enough protein in the body. Thus, enhancing the effectiveness of mRNAs – for example, by increasing their protein production efficiency – is a subject of much research and debate among scientists. This is because our immune system, for example, could work better with a greater number of certain antibodies.
Now, a team led by Prof. Becki KUANG Yi, Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at HKUST, discovered a way to enhance both the life span and efficiency of mRNA. By engineering the tail sequences of different mRNAs, the team eventually discovered the optimised sequences that could produce 3 to 10 times as many proteins than unoptimised tail sequences commonly used for synthetic mRNAs on both human cells and mice. The duration of protein production is also doubled.
This innovative technology will not only reduce the amount and the number of injections needed for mRNA drugs and vaccines but will also potentially lower the cost of treatments. It can also be used along with other mRNA enhancement technologies to synergically boost protein production.
Prof Kuang stated that increasing the protein production of synthetic mRNA is beneficial to all mRNA drugs and vaccines. He added that, in collaboration with Sun Yat-Sen University, the HKUST team is now exploring the use of optimized tails for mRNA cancer vaccines on animals. The team is also looking forward to collaborating with pharmaceutical companies to transfer this invention onto mRNA therapeutics and vaccine development pipelines to benefit society.
The team’s findings were recently published online in the journal of Molecular Therapy – Nucleic Acids. mRNA drugs and vaccines have attracted much attention in recent years due to their effectiveness in protecting us against severe conditions of certain communicable diseases such as COVID-19 and their high potential in treating chronic diseases like cancers.
The global mRNA therapeutics market size was valued at US$39.90 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% from 2022 to 2030. RNA-based therapeutics have attracted a lot of attention in recent years owing to their high potential in treating chronic diseases.
In addition, with regard to production, distribution, and safety, RNA vaccines provide several benefits over DNA vaccines. They have also shown promise in human clinical studies, which has increased the demand for mRNA vaccines and therapeutics.
Moreover, the number of mRNA-based vaccine therapeutics in oncology clinical trials has dramatically expanded as a result of the success of Moderna’s and Pfizer- BioNTech’s vaccines against COVID-19. Furthermore, barring the COVID-19 trials in cancer patients, 2021 has seen the second-highest number of mRNA vaccine trials for cancer patients, thus propelling the industry’s growth.