Home > UGC Publications > Press Releases > 2001 > Areas of Excellence Scheme - Results of the Second Round (26.9.2001)

Areas of Excellence Scheme - Results of the Second Round

The University Grants Committee (UGC) announced today (26 September 2001) the selection results of the second round of its Areas of Excellence (AoE) scheme.

The AoE scheme is an initiative launched by the UGC with the objective of enabling development in research areas where Hong Kong has particular potentials and where Hong Kong can develop a competitive edge internationally. The UGC, on the advice of its Areas of Excellence Committee (AoESC), will fund the following three proposals for five years with a total amount of $99.8 million:

Area of Excellence (lead institution) Funds to be committed over 5 years
Molecular Neuroscience: Basic Research and Drug Discovery (HKUST) Annex - 1 $26.8 M
Chinese Medicine Research and Further Development (CUHK in collaboration with CityU/PolyU/HKUST) Annex - 2 $25 M
Institute of Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis (PolyU/HKU in collaboration with CityU/HKBU/CUHK/HKUST) Annex - 3 $48 M
Total $99.8 M

Announcing the results, Dr Alice Lam, UGC Chairman, said, "The centrepiece of the AoE scheme is 'excellence' and in this context it is 'excellence' by international standards. Through the scheme, the UGC wants to encourage institutions to put their strengths together and build up 'Areas of Excellence' for Hong Kong. The UGC made a very good start in the first round by supporting three proposals with a total funding allocation of more than $120 million. In this second round, the number of quality proposal has increased and we are greatly encouraged. The three supported proposals are in areas where clear potential for Hong Kong to excel has been established. We are very hopeful that in five years' time the three teams will be able to demonstrate success to the benefit of the entire community of Hong Kong."

Dr York Liao, Chairman of the AoESC said, "To uphold the notion of 'excellence' and, to make sure that all funded proposals are capable of attaining world-class excellence, we have applied a stringent benchmark in evaluating all AoE proposals. In total, the UGC received of 55 initial proposals from the eight UGC-funded institutions, and they covered a wide spectrum of research subjects in biology & medicine, physical sciences, engineering and humanities & business studies. Evaluation was undertaken by review panels which comprised both local and overseas experts in the relevant fields. It was only after several rounds of evaluation and shortlisting that the UGC finally came to the decisions."

"Although the three selected proposals apparently fall within areas which are scientifically related, they are actually addressing different and distinct research issues. I would stress that irrespective of academic discipline all proposals were evaluated on the same footing and selection was entirely by merits. The three proposals complement one another in some way and will certainly benefit Hong Kong's future development," Dr Liao added.

The progress of all AoE funded projects are subject to rigorous monitoring with release of funding tied to achievement of clear deliverables at different stages. In addition to scrutiny of progress reports, the UGC will also conduct on-site assessment visits to the projects as part of the formal review.


On the advice of the UGC, the Government agreed in 1997 to support UGC-funded institutions to build upon their existing strengths with a view to developing them into "Areas of Excellence". The aim is to assist in maintaining and enhancing Hong Kong's pivotal position in the overall development of China and the Pacific Rim.

The AoE scheme was launched by the UGC in 1998. In the first round exercise, the UGC funded three projects with a total of $126 million for a period of five years. The three projects are Information Technology (a joint project of CUHK, HKU and HKUST), Institute of Economics and Business Strategy (a HKU project) and Plant and Fungal biotechnology (a CUHK project).

UGC Secretariat
26 September 2001

Note to editors:
For enquiries on this press release, please contact Mr P H Li, Assistant Secretary General (Research) of the UGC Secretariat at 2524 3971.

Annex - 1

Molecular Neuroscience

As the world's population ages, the incidence of debilitating disorders of the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease and stroke, increases dramatically. Neuroscience, the study of the function and diseases of the brain, is therefore considered to be one of the most important areas of modern biomedical research. A multidisciplinary team, led by HKUST in collaboration with three local universities (CUHK, HKBU, HKU), the Hospital Authority, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been assembled with the common goal to conduct leading edge research in neuroscience and discover drugs for the treatment of neurological disorders. A unique feature of this research program is the combination of molecular approaches with the utilization of Chinese herbal medicine as a source of potential neuro-drug candidates. This Area of Excellence (AoE) is envisioned to make major contributions towards understanding the complex processes underlying brain function as well as discovery of novel neuro-drugs.

The implications associated with the development of molecular neuroscience in Hong Kong are potentially far reaching in terms of its scientific, social and economic benefits:

  • Scientifically, this AoE is expected to advance molecular neuroscience research as well as neuro-drug discovery in this region.

  • Through local research initiatives, the development of novel drugs can translate into cutting-edge medical interventions for the neurological disorders affecting the health and well-being of the people in Hong Kong.

  • The anticipated establishment of new biotechnological ventures for drug discovery and development are expected to strengthen the economic base for Hong Kong.

Annex - 2

Chinese Medicine Research and Further Development

In promoting the modernization of Chinese medicine and providing clinical research for drug development, a consortium, led by The Chinese University of Hong Kong with close collaboration from the City University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was formed. The consortium will adopt an efficacy driven approach and establish an evidence-based scientific model for Chinese medicine research, with a view to identifying complementary or alternative treatments for illnesses that still have not found effective solutions or preventive measures in western medicine.

The five priority projects selected for the AoE include antiviral preparation for hepatitis, treatment/maintenance for childhood asthma, limb salvage for diabetic foot ulcer, treatment of women's ailments, and health promoting tonic for cardiac diseases.

The scientific research will not only provide clinical evidence on the efficacy of the selected herbal formulae, but it will also set models for clinical trials and drug authentication for Chinese medicine, thereby pave way for commercialization which will bring more business opportunities to Hong Kong.

Annex - 3

Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis

The Hong Kong Institute of Molecular Technology for Drug Discovery and Synthesis is established as an Area of Excellence (AoE) in research in Hong Kong. This AoE combines the expertise of leading academics with high international repute in chemistry and life sciences from the six local universities (HKU, PolyU, CUHK, HKUST, CityU, and BaptistU), in collaboration with scientific and industrial leaders from around the world. The mission of this AoE is to implement world-class science and technology in the area of drug discovery and synthesis. The group will invent novel methodologies for the preparation and structural modification of new drug candidates as well as for proven drugs that carry no patent rights. The Institute will also develop synthetic methods towards agrochemicals and technologies for potent drugs evaluation. Through this AoE, libraries of useful drug candidates and chiral technologies will be created. The Institute will invent environmentally-friendly technologies for drug synthesis, study the chemical biology of reactive oxygen and nitrogen radicals, and devise new biosensors for disease monitoring and drugs screening. With regard to drug discovery activities, the group will collaborate with various research institutions including Shanghai-Hong Kong Joint Laboratory in Chemical Synthesis, Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences as well as Shanghai Innovative Research Center of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

This interdisciplinary endeavour is launched using the UGC AoE Fund and the two leading institutions, HKU and PolyU, will provide matching funds to ensure success of this venture. The two leaders of the Institute are Professor Albert S.C. Chan of PolyU and Professor Chi-Ming Che of HKU. It is expected that commercially applicable technologies, in addition to world-class scientific research, will be attained within the next five to ten years.