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LCQ7: Health and Medical Research Fund

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Chan Mo-po and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):


     The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) has proposed to merge the Health and Health Services Research Fund (HHSRF) and the Research Fund for the Control of Infectious Diseases (RFCID), which are currently managed by FHB, into a new Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF). Yet, the structure of HMRF's secretariat cannot be streamlined after the merger, as the authorities have explained that the funding scope of HMRF will be expanded, and at the meeting of the Finance Committee held in December last year, the authorities also indicated that 10 additional secretariat staff would be required, as many procedures would be involved in vetting and approving research projects, and quarterly interim reports were to be submitted and overall assessments had to be made upon the completion of projects. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the differences between the specific procedures for vetting and approving research projects under HHSRF and RFCID, and those under HMRF which will be set up shortly; whether it has assessed if there is any inadequacy or loophole in the vetting and approving procedures under HHSRF and RFCID; whether the vetting and approving procedures under HMRF are formulated after making reference to the experiences of other similar funds; if so, of the details; if not, how the vetting and approving procedures are drawn up;

(b) whether submission of quarterly reports and overall assessments upon the completion of projects are required under HHSRF and RFCID; if so, how such requirements differ from those under HMRF, and how the authorities assessed the manpower requirements involved;

(c) given that the administrative expenses on the operation of HMRF will mainly be borne by FHB, of the amount to be involved each year; whether there are similar funds the administrative expenses of which are mainly borne by FHB; if there are, of the names of such funds and the respective amounts involved each year;

(d) given that the authorities have estimated that other administrative expenses directly incurred in operating HMRF, which represent about 1.4% of the fund's total value, will be borne by HMRF itself, of the specific distribution of the expenses involved; how such distribution of expenses compares with the relevant situation under HHSRF and RFCID;

(e) of the annual additional expenses involved in the provision of additional secretariat staff for HMRF; the respective amounts of such expenses to be borne by FHB and HMRF; and

(f) whether it has assessed the economic benefits to be brought by HMRF in promoting the medical industry in Hong Kong; if it has, of the specific details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) has proposed to set up a new Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF), which aims to encourage, facilitate and support local health and medical research to inform health policies, promote population health, strengthen the health system, enhance healthcare practices, advance standard and quality of care, and promote Hong Kong's position as a centre of clinical excellence in the region, through generation and application of evidence-based scientific findings derived from local research in health and medicine. The existing Health and Health Services Research Fund (HHSRF) and Research Fund for the Control of Infectious Diseases (RFCID) administered by FHB will be consolidated into HMRF, with an additional injection of $1,000 million to broaden the funding scope for local health and medical research.  Apart from the research projects currently supported by the two Funds, HMRF will also fund health and medical research in other specific areas in order to provide comprehensive and dedicated support for health and medical research activities, research infrastructure and research capacity building in Hong Kong.

     The consolidated HMRF will continue to be managed by FHB under the established governance mechanism of the existing Research Funds. The mechanism was developed with reference to the experience of other places in managing similar funds. This includes a Health and Medical Research Council chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health and comprising leading professionals in the local medical and academic sectors. The Research Council will be responsible for overseeing the direction, strategy and scope of health and medical research projects funded by HMRF.

     To cater for the broadened funding scope, the Administration plans to further strengthen the governance mechanism of HMRF, including engaging more renowned local and overseas experts and setting up a series of Expert Advisory Panels on relevant fields for individual research areas, with a view to providing expert advice on the direction, strategy and operation of HMRF and overseeing the outcome evaluation of the funded research projects on relevant fields.

     My replies to the various parts of the question are as follows:

(a) The procedures of HMRF for vetting funding proposals will follow the established vetting mechanism of the existing HHSRF and RFCID, which was developed with reference to the experience of other places in managing similar funds. All proposals for research funding will be subject to a stringent two-tier peer review process established following international practices to ensure all funded projects are of appropriate scientific design and high scientific merits: first by a Referee Panel comprising overseas referees chosen for their expertise in relevant research areas; second by the Grant Review Board (GRB) comprising a multidisciplinary panel of local experts with technical skills and experience in a wide spectrum of health sciences. Based on objective vetting criteria, they assess the scientific merits of the research projects, applicability to local context and other considerations, such as research ethics and "value for money" of the projects. The GRB will make funding recommendation to the Research Council for consideration and approval.

(b) The research projects funded by HMRF after review will be subject to monitoring and evaluation. The relevant mechanism will follow the established procedures of the existing HHSRF and RFCID. The principal applicant of an approved project is required to submit progress reports and certified financial statements at regular intervals. Upon completion of the project, a final report and audited account should be submitted. The final report will also be subject to the stringent two-tier peer review process. The impact of the research funding will be evaluated by the Research Fund Secretariat after completion of the study using a standardised evaluation questionnaire formulated in accordance with internationally recognised measure of health research activities. The questionnaire describes the research outcomes and outputs in terms of knowledge generation, capacity building, engagement with peers and the public and benefits derived. Research reports of successfully completed projects will be disseminated to the community via promulgation by the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) on its website ( and publication in the Hong Kong Medical Journal which is distributed to relevant healthcare professionals.  FHB will report regularly to the LegCo on the utilisation of HMRF. For the manpower requirements involved, please refer to the ensuing parts of the reply.

(c) to (e) The current Research Fund Secretariat of FHB comprising eight staff of various levels and expertise is directly responsible for the management of HHSRF and RFCID under FHB and the provision of administrative and technical support services, including initial screening of applications, liaison with applicants, assignment of referees, preparation of documents for Research Council and GRB meetings, as well as monitoring and assessing funded research projects etc. The annual recurrent cost of about $7 million is absorbed by FHB's provisions.

     With the increased commitment and expanded funding scope (to cover advanced medical research in specific fields including paediatrics, neuroscience, clinical genetics and clinical trials) of HMRF, we expect the workload of the Research Fund Secretariat will increase correspondingly. Based on the funding experience of the existing Research Funds, the annual funding amount to be committed for research under HMRF is expected to increase to about $250 million per year on average (about three times the current average annual amount), and the number of applications to be received and processed is correspondingly expected to increase three-fold (from about 300 applications per year to 900 applications per year). To cope with the expected increase in workload, we plan to augment the Secretariat by seven new non-directorate non-civil service staff supporting the operation of HMRF on a full-time basis and three non-directorate civil servants providing executive and clerical support for the Research Office of FHB including the Research Fund Secretariat. The additional annual recurrent cost required for the operation of HMRF is estimated to be $9 million from 2012-13 to 2016-17. This will be absorbed by FHB's provisions.

     The direct operation costs for HMRF, estimated to be about $4 million per annum, will be charged to HMRF. These include, for instance, meeting costs of the Research Council and its constituent panels, boards and committees for members' technical and advisory input to HMRF; publication of research dissemination reports; maintenance of the operating system and website of HMRF; publicity, training workshops and seminars; and expenses for other activities necessary to support the operation of HMRF under the direction of the Research Council.

     The details of the breakdown of future staff composition, the annual recurrent costs and the direct operation costs are set out in Annex.

(f) Health and medical research and development is a key element of the healthcare system. Health and medical research allows better insight into the disease, maximises treatment outcome, improves quality of care and promotes public health. The initial investment in research leads to a return in terms of less disease, improved population health and in turn enhanced work productivity. Investment in local health and medical research and development and availability of facilities and resources for such purposes are also key factors that help attract and retain talents, both local and overseas, essential to the development of a hub for medical research and clinical excellence, and supportive of a quality medical service sector. This would in turn engender a positive impact on the development of medical services as one of our local industries.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:38


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