Sharing Research Beyond the Lab
I call myself an integrator.
Much of the research conducted in laboratories never reaches the outside world in a useable and commercial form. These advances in knowledge and technology could change and improve the world if they were shared with the marketplace, enabling the public to benefit directly. At the same time, research that is made available for commercial use can bring in funding for a university that in turn would draw more investment in research and learning, creating a virtuous cycle of continuing and growing success.
Bringing that vision to reality is the mission and endeavour of Dr Yiwu He, who arrived at The University of Hong Kong a year ago to take up the salient role as Senior Advisor to the President, along with others. Dr He’s conviction is that the benefits of research can be amplified and rippled out if their end results propagate beyond the walls of the laboratory.
How entrenched mindsets can be convinced to see the potential human and economic impact of commercially developed research is one of Dr He’s top challenges. He is committed to showing the positive potential by letting the evidence speak for itself. A case in point is his work in bringing to market a vaccine for COVID-19. “When a vaccine is successfully developed, think how many lives it can save. How much economic activity it can generate,” he said.
Developing research with an eye on its community impact will also bring benefits to researchers. “Innovation and commercialisation will improve your research, and you will get feedback and requests,” he remarked.
Dr He is building what he calls vertical and horizontal ecosystems to bring together the different talents and participants needed to bring the benefits of research out of the lab and onto the shelf. The idea is to create a community of researchers, developers, patent experts, regulatory experts, marketing and industry experts and others, in the belief that the best way to achieve success is to let the best people rub shoulders and work together. Networks will also be created with business, investors and other universities. “I call myself an integrator,” he uttered with a smile.
He has already made serious headway with his plans, securing HK$4 billion funding from the Hong Kong government’s Inno HK project, which will be used to fund nine subsidiaries, each working on a commercially viable university project in areas including artificial intelligence, medicine, engineering and vaccine development, and held under the umbrella of a holding company of which Dr He is also the managing director.
Dr He’s multiple roles place him in the best position to create the cross-sector networking that will be the key to his mission’s success. He has worked in a series of high-level roles, including more than a decade with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and nine years with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At HKU, he is also the University’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Director of Knowledge Exchange Office, and Director of Technology Transfer Office. He also leads iDendron, the University’s incubator for new businesses.
With many tasks under his belt, Dr He sees his multiple roles as the conduit to connect and complement the efforts of research with other endeavours, thereby making research more accessible. “It will be better if your research can benefit the community,” he explains. “That makes your research a lot more meaningful.”