Top dollar for unis in joint Covid research

Local | Erin Chan 14 Jul 2021

Two Covid-19 research proposals to be carried out by scientists in different institutions have secured HK$100 million in research funding from the Research Grants Council of the University Grants Committee.

They are among eight proposals selected by the Theme-based Research Scheme to be granted a total of HK$415 million funding in the 11th and latest round. The council will provide HK$367 million, with the rest provided by the universities themselves.

The research will be carried out by the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University, University of Science and Technology and Baptist University. The teams will be led by HKU professors Leo Poon Lit-man and Jin Dongyan.

Poon's team aims to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants, the causative virus of Covid-19, and Covid-19 immune responses.

The team will monitor genotypic and phenotypic changes in SARS-CoV-2, reverse genetic approaches and next-generation sequencing technology.

It will then monitor adults and children infected with Covid-19 over three years.

"These individuals will be monitored for reinfection," Poon said. "The quality and kinetics of immune responses triggered by infection or commercial vaccines will be assessed and compared."

Jin's team will investigate the origin of Covid-19 by analyzing samples from bats and other animals and locating emerging variants.

"We will also define the mechanism of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection in bats and humans," Jin said.

The team will then attempt to find the source of the virus and its method of replication, as well as identify the roles of several components in it using genetic screenings.

"Finally, we will pursue translational research to revolutionize diagnosis, vaccine development and treatment," Jin said.

Council chairman Wong Yuk-shan said the proposals were selected after rigorous peer reviews. "We look forward to their positive societal and economic impact," he said.

He also said his council had reserved an additional annual budget of HK$50 million for three research funding schemes starting this academic year, with the Theme-based Research Scheme among them. He added that a call for research proposals for the scheme's 12th round will be issued this month.

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