Official statistics show that the median age of Hong Kong’s population has gone up to 43.4 in 2017 from 28.8 in 1986, and the population of people aged 65 and above will increase to 31 per cent by 2023 from 16 per cent in 2016. These numbers have crystalised the ageing trend of the Hong Kong population. The city’s medical system will be the first frontier to be severely tested under this trend.
Fortunately, the biomedical community is actively finding medication and medical technology to counter common geriatric afflictions and help the elderly population enjoy better-quality living, or even stay active in the community. OPER Technology, an incubatee of HKSTP, has developed innovations in these areas:
- Personalized stem cell therapies
- Innovative surgery technology
- Other personalised medical treatments
Widely recognised technology
The company’s CEO Dr Cathy Lui said that the company’s personalized stem cell therapy can replace neural cells lost in neurological impairment such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and stroke. It will help patients to recover from neurodegeneration in terms of cognitive inability, mobility impairment, etc. It is the world’s first and has won patents in the US and Hong Kong, and also pocketed multiple local and overseas awards.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells existing in various human organs and tissues. They can divide and differentiate into specialised cells. They serve as a kind of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other damaged cells or cells lost in the brain and other organs. As people age, the ability to self-repair wanes. Modern medicine strives to make adult stem cells regain this function. Extracting stem cells from a human body and then re-introducing them into the body after cultivating specialised cells is not new, but the procedure has never been applied to the brain.
Help the brain regain cognitive and other functions
Dr Lui says that overseas R&D works have attempted to cultivate stem cells of other tissues as neural cells, but the effect was not ideal and cases of cell rejection or metastasising as tumours were observed. The stem cell therapy developed by the company’s research team uses magnetic nanoparticles bonded with antibodies to attract the stem cells within the brain. After the cells are developed into specialised neural cells, they will be re-injected into the brain of the same patient to help the brain regain memory function, which will be a more effective and safer medical alternative.
At present, there are more than 100 million sufferers of neurological diseases globally. The number is set to increase as the ageing trend is aggravating on a world-wide scale. There is yet no cure for such neurological issues, but OPER’s therapy brings new hopes for a lot of patients.
Even the therapy may not help patients fully recover lost memories, the new brain cells help the degenerated brain to regain cognitive and other functions, for example movement, which will greatly help the patients to get their life on track again.
OPER Technology joined HKSTP’s Incu-Bio programme in 2015. Dr Lui says that the she has learned a lot in the entrepreneurial process, such as applying for patents, marketing and promotions and business development. She adds that connecting with investors and business matching is the most valuable support of the incubation programme.
Moving towards clinical trial
It is generally thought that biomedical technology will take decades before it gets to the clinical trial stage from the starting point of R&D. Dr Lui disagrees. She says that OPER has taken three years since its establishment to take the therapy to early and mid-stage of clinical trial. Preclinical stage has been successfully done, with more than 80 per cent success rate, indicating its safety and effectiveness. Currently, the company is actively raising funds and negotiating with pharmaceutical companies on collaboration. It expects to officially release the therapy in the market within three years to let more people benefit from the treatment.