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Research

The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) has long supported local health and medical research, as well as health promotion projects.  Through the generation of scientific knowledge derived from local and global research, as well as translating these knowledge into clinical practice, the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) administered by the FHB is able to provide more and better evidence to support cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, as well as formulation of evidence-based health policy, to reduce cancer incidence, morbidity, mortality, and to improve the quality of life of patients.  Studies on cancer-related areas will be given priority for funding under the HMRF.

Health and Medical Research Fund

The Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) was established by the FHB in 2011 by consolidating the former Health and Health Services Research Fund and the former Research Fund for the Control of Infectious Diseases, with a broadened scope for funding health and medical research in Hong Kong.  In 2017, the HMRF further expanded its scope by incorporating the former Health Care and Promotion Fund in order to create synergy and provide more flexibility in supporting both health and medical research and health promotion efforts.

The HMRF aims to build research capacity and to encourage, facilitate and support health and medical research to inform health policies, improve population health, strengthen the health system, enhance healthcare practices, advance standard and quality of care, and promote clinical excellence, through generation and application of evidence-based scientific knowledge derived from local research in health and medicine.  It also provides funding support to evidence-based health promotion projects that help people adopt healthier lifestyles by enhancing awareness, changing adverse health behaviours or creating a conducive environment that supports good health practices. 

The HMRF provides funding support for the following types of projects:

a. Investigator-initiated Projects (funding ceiling: $1.5 million per project; project period: 3 years) – to support research studies and health promotion projects from individual applicants in response to "HMRF open call" invitations for grant applications guided by reference to the thematic priorities.

b. Government-commissioned Programmes – to support specific programmes commissioned to, inter alia, build research capacity, fill knowledge gaps, support policy formulation, address specific issues, assess needs and threats, etc. Funding may cover research projects, facilities, infrastructure and other capacity building initiatives as appropriate.

c. Research Fellowship Scheme (funding ceiling: $1.2 million per award; award period: 2 years) – to enhance research capability and build research capacity to facilitate the translation of knowledge into formulation of health policy and clinical practice. Research fellowships will be awarded to eligible candidates covering a range of research areas and specialties on the advice of the Research Council.

Please visit the Research Fund Secretariat’s website (https://rfs.fhb.gov.hk/) for the details of open calls for Investigator-initiated Projects and Research Fellowship Scheme, and the abstracts of the approved projects.

Expert Advisory Panels

Five Expert Advisory Panels (EAPs) on Cancer, Primary Healthcare and Non-Communicable Disease, Infectious Diseases, Mental Health and Implementation Science respectively, had been set up by the Research Council to make recommendations to advance science and to shape the research agenda of the HMRF.  Members comprise local experts in the forefront of cancer research and healthcare.  The thematic priorities relating to cancer for the 2019 HMRF Open Call for Investigator-initiated projects include:

  1. Health and health services research on major non-communicable diseases including cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic diseases of cardiovascular system, chronic respiratory diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, and chronic, musculoskeletal disorders and their associated risk factors including unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, and psychosocial problems;
  2. Epidemiology studies on cancer risk factors that can help formulate strategies for primary prevention;
  3. Use of appropriate screening strategies for early identification and treatment of cancer;
  4. Development of novel diagnostic tools, new treatment modalities including advanced surgical techniques, systemic therapy and radiotherapy to reduce mortality and morbidity;
  5. Development and evaluation of cancer survivorship care delivery to address long-term and late effects of cancer;
  6. Applied research in genetics and genomics for personalised medicine, in particular target therapies for different tumours; and
  7. Application of big data analytics to examine clinical information for better management of cancer patients

Cancer Research Supported by Health and Medical Research Fund

Please visit the Research Fund Secretariat’s website (https://rfs.fhb.gov.hk/) for the details of the approved projects.

  1. Investigator-initiated Projects

    1. In the application rounds for investigator-initiated research studies from 2012 to 2017, the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) has supported 237 cancer-related studies accounting for 21.0% of all funded projects.  These researches focused on liver cancer (27.4%), nasopharyngeal carcinoma (12.2%), breast cancer (9.3%), colorectal cancer (9.2%), lung cancer (7.6%), leukemia (5.9%) and ovarian cancer (4.2%).  A large proportion of the studies (41.4%) investigated the prevalence, risk factors, and mechanisms for causing cancer. 
    2. Many of these studies were molecular or genetic studies, with a view to identifying potential targets for diagnostics and development of new cancer drugs.  About one third (30.8%) of the studies addressed new treatment modalities or evaluation of existing treatment options.  About one fifth (21.9%) of the projects studied cutting-edge science in diagnosis and prognosis including various biomarkers in predicting tumour progression and treatment outcome.  Studies on prevention strategies accounted for 1.3% among all funded cancer projects.
    3. The HMRF seeks to support about 300 investigator-initiated research and health promotion projects (around $360 million) in the next six years for better prevention and control of cancer.
  2. Government-commissioned Programmes

    The following commissioned programmes related to cancer have been supported by the HMRF:

    1. Colorectal Cancer

      The HMRF has commissioned The Chinese University of Hong Kong and The University of Hong Kong in December 2015 each to conduct a four-to a five-year study to evaluate the overall performance of the Colorectal Cancer Screening Pilot Programme, including its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, satisfaction of users and service providers, change in public understanding, perception, acceptance and equitable use of the screening. The total funding for these two programmes is $22 million.

    2. Breast Cancer

      The HMRF has commissioned The University of Hong Kong to conduct a five-year study on the risk of breast cancer in Hong Kong in 2015.  The study aims to formulate a risk prediction model for breast cancer in Hong Kong using a case‐control study approach under which a comparison is made between women with and without breast cancer. It also aims to find out the relationship between risk factors (such as age, body mass index and other personal characteristics, physical activity, family history of breast cancer, and history of benign breast disease) and breast cancer development. The total funding for this programme is $19 million.

    3. Tobacco Control Policies

      To tackle tobacco‐related harms, a major risk factor for cancer, a three‐year study has been commissioned to The University of Hong Kong in 2019 to evaluate the impact of tobacco control policies in Hong Kong. The study aims to establish a systematic survey to determine the effectiveness of existing tobacco control measures and to recommend new measures in line with the research findings. The total funding for this programme is $9 million.

    4. Population-based Cohort Study

      In 2019, the HMRF has commissioned The Chinese University of Hong Kong to conduct a five-year population‐based cohort study to examine the chemo‐protective effects of aspirin against multiple cancers.  The study will assess whether the long‐term use of aspirin is associated with the risk reduction on cancer incidence and mortality, and to evaluate the benefits of aspirin outweigh its potential risks of bleeding events by examining clinical records of a cohort of more than 600,000 patients. The total funding for this programme is $9.85 million.

    5. Phase I Clinical Trials Centres

      The HMRF has provided funding to support the infrastructure of the two Phase I Clinical Trials Centres (“CTCs”) for five years with a total funding of $80 million to conduct early phase clinical trials. Since 2014, the two Centres have commenced trials on safety, pharmacology and efficacy of various treatment for a range of cancers including liver, lung, breast, colorectum, kidney and other solid tumours. Additional funding of $100 million has been provided starting from 2019 to the two Phase I CTCs, for development of novel pharmaceutical products including those treating different cancers.

  3. Research Fellowship Scheme

    1. The Research Fellowship Scheme under the HMRF would support researchers or healthcare professionals in their early to mid‐career, to enhance their skills in public health or health services research. Funding support will be provided for successful applicants to attend local or overseas training programmes which can help equip them with knowledge and skills to become independent researchers.
    2. Since 2016, four projects (around $3.68 moiilion) related to cancer have been supported. The HMRF will support about 30 awardees (around $30 million) in the coming six years to address the risk factors of cancer.