Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, good evening. I am deeply honoured to stand before such an eminent audience today. It is a great privilege for me to be able to share my perspective on the next chapter of Hong Kong’s success story as a global health tech hub in the Greater Bay Area, and how we can together capture the abundant opportunities arising from it.
First of all, I would like to express my utmost gratitude and appreciation to the Society for Innovative Healthcare Hong Kong for inviting me to be a speaker at this evening’s gala dinner. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the Society for their unwavering commitment to fostering innovation in healthcare. At a time when technological advancements are constantly reshaping the healthcare industry, it is important to have organisations like the Society, which champion innovation and nurture the development of trailblazing ideas and practices. By bringing together industry leaders, healthcare professionals, academics, patient group representatives, and other healthcare stakeholders, the Society provides an invaluable forum for collaborative exchanges of knowledge and information, which will no doubt drive progress in the industry, transform healthcare delivery, and ultimately improve patient experiences.
To begin, please allow me to briefly introduce myself and my firm. I am Thomas Wong, a Partner at CW CPA. We are a professional advisory and CPA firm based in Hong Kong. We are strategically located in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, with overseas presence in Brazil, Colombia, Spain, and the UK. With more than 70 per cent of our clients coming from overseas, we have an exceptionally strong international focus. As a professional “super-connector” in promoting trade and investment between overseas markets and China via the gateway of Hong Kong, we have proudly served as one of Hong Kong’s most dedicated and devoted storytellers for many years. As embodied by our firm’s name, our abiding mission is to “Connect the World”. In fact, if I may say so, our endeavours in promoting “Hong Kong’s good stories” far and wide predate the official usage of the expression itself.
It is my firm belief that Hong Kong’s success story can be significantly enriched by capitalising on the giant strides in the healthcare sector. I am sure you would all agree that, after overcoming the formidable challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong has made an incredibly strong comeback on the global stage. Time and time again, Asia’s World City has proved its remarkable resilience, versatility, and adaptability to ever-changing times. Indeed, innovation is part of our city’s DNA. Its multifaceted role sets an impressive example for other cities to follow: Hong Kong is at once an international financial, logistics, trade, maritime, aviation, and legal and dispute resolution centre. Its transformation into a leading international innovation and tech hub is also proceeding full steam ahead. The confluence of its many-sided role, strategic positioning in the Greater Bay Area, and status as a gateway to mainland China gives our city a unique edge as a global health tech hub. The time has come for Hong Kong to take up yet again another role. Its emerging health-tech story is rapidly unfolding. This exciting narrative will certainly add to the rich tapestry of Hong Kong’s tales. And I am sure we are all keen to share it with the rest of the world.
Asking why healthcare is important may seem like a rhetorical question. From preventing and treating diseases to promoting overall wellbeing, healthcare plays a critical role in supporting people’s function in the wider community. It is easier for societies to thrive and be more productive when their populations are healthy. As such, good health is a key enabler of social and economic development. Over the past century, around one third of the economic growth in advanced economies can be attributed to improvements in global health.
The COVID-19 pandemic in recent times has clearly brought to the fore the sheer importance of healthcare. It has led to growing levels of health consciousness. Coupled with other factors, such as shifting demographics, an ageing population, and rising consumer expectations, China’s healthcare industry is set to experience a boom. Its healthcare expenditure is projected to reach 17.6 trillion renminbi by 2030. Globally speaking, the picture is similar. Between 2018 and 2022, it is estimated that global healthcare spending surged by over 40 per cent, reaching 12 trillion US dollars. We are witnessing an exponential rise in demand for accessible and efficient healthcare services. This surge has sparked a paradigm shift in our perception of how healthcare is delivered and managed as we know it. It has prompted us to explore how innovation can improve affordability, patient outcomes, and the overall quality and efficiency of healthcare provision.
I believe that Hong Kong, with its unique merits, is very well positioned to take the lead in expanding the scope and breadth of digital healthcare ecosystems in the Greater Bay Area, elsewhere in the region, and further afield in the world. By doing so, healthcare advancements can be accelerated, benefitting not only our local and regional communities, but also global communities at large. Our city’s vast pool of investment capital, top-notch talent, and cutting-edge infrastructure make it a prime candidate to become a global health tech hub in the Greater Bay Area. Being close to Shenzhen also offers health tech companies the opportunity to fully leverage the Chinese Silicon Valley’s comprehensive industry value chains. This proximity allows for a more efficient conversion of research achievements carried out in Hong Kong into products, which can in turn be commercialised more quickly.
Healthcare and biotech are one of the most rapidly expanding sectors in Hong Kong’s IPO market. Since the amendment of its Listing Rules in 2018, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange has become a popular destination for biotech companies seeking funding. The addition of Chapter 18A to the Stock Exchange’s Listing Rules has opened doors to pre-revenue stage biotech companies to tap into international capital and investors. Chapter 18A allows such companies to be listed if they meet certain conditions, such as having at least one core product beyond the concept stage. This has attracted numerous biotech companies that now proudly call Hong Kong their home. It is truly an incredible feat that our city has emerged as the largest fundraising hub for biotech companies in Asia and the second largest in the world.
As part of our efforts to spread the good word about Hong Kong, we should showcase our city’s world-class and state-of-the-art research and development infrastructure, which provides an exceptional platform for health tech innovations to take off. The spaces that foster innovation and serve as birthplaces of ground-breaking outputs are continuously being upgraded. A notable example is the Shenzhen–Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Cooperation Zone. The Cooperation Zone straddles both sides of the Shenzhen River and is made up of the Hong Kong–Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park at the Lok Ma Chau Loop and the Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Zone. Construction is in full swing, and the initial eight buildings will be completed from the end of 2024 onwards. One of the Cooperation Zone’s key focus areas is healthcare technologies. A pioneering InnoLife Healthtech Hub will be set up there to bring together the existing life and health-related laboratories in the InnoHK research clusters and the State Key Laboratories specialising in life and health disciplines. The Hub will concentrate on research and development in various fields, including biomedicine, physics, engineering, and artificial intelligence. The fruits of R&D will then be applied in areas, such as prevention, diagnosis, pathology tracking, medicine, surgical micro-robots, advanced treatment, and rehabilitation.
Health tech companies worldwide can seize a plethora of opportunities arising from the digital transformation of healthcare. The digitalisation of healthcare opens up a new realm of possibilities for health tech entrepreneurs along the entire patient journey. They span a wide spectrum, from initial prevention and screening, diagnosis and disease staging, all the way to treatment and disease management. To properly capture these opportunities, it is not only necessary to have a deep understanding of the challenges faced by patients, doctors, healthcare providers, and other key stakeholders, but also a precise knowledge of how digital solutions can effectively address their respective pain points. Further, health technologies should be such that they empower patients to take charge of their own health. They should enable users to be more well-informed and proactive stewards of their personal wellbeing.
As we look ahead, we can anticipate that connected or integrated devices will be a key source of growth in the coming few years, while there is considerable potential for growth in the areas of disease prevention and healthcare provision. In addition, there has been a strong continued uptake of telehealth solutions. Although their widespread adoption was initially driven by the necessities of the pandemic, their popularity has remained. Virtual or hybrid healthcare models involve, for example, online consultations, e-triage solutions, remote monitoring, and sending of digital reminders. But, to boost the level of adoption, certain obstacles still need to be addressed, for example, security concerns and the perception of effectiveness compared to in-person consultations. Current models will no doubt need to undergo further changes to enhance the delivery of technology-enabled healthcare. Moreover, to promote telehealth as a viable alternative – and in some cases the preferred option – it is crucial to prioritise the creation of a seamless and user-friendly interface and a better integration of data and insights.
I would like to circle back to the meaning of healthcare and look at it in its broader context. Aside from its vital societal role, healthcare, in my view, has personal resonance for each and every one of us here. The topic of healthcare strikes an especially personal chord with me. At my firm, CW CPA, we steadfastly follow the motto of nothing trumps “Family and Health”. These are values to which I hold very dear and which I deeply cherish. The wellbeing of my employees and their loved ones is of paramount importance to me. In my opinion, it is, therefore, crucial for us – both on a collective and individual level – to prioritise the development of healthcare by harnessing the power of innovation. Indeed, the true significance of Hong Kong’s health-tech story lies beyond the ample business opportunities. Rather, it is about fostering sustainable and inclusive development, and bringing to life a shared vision of healthcare to ensure that no one is left behind. At the very heart of the story is the opportunity for Hong Kong as a global health tech hub to make a significant contribution to advancing health equity in the world.
We can say, then, that Hong Kong’s health tech story is – at its core –a story about care and co-development. And our collective efforts are required to shape this narrative. The potential for our city to provide a thriving platform for health tech companies from all corners of the world to tackle health equity challenges is vast. Needless to say, addressing these challenges head on requires a lot of work. Two big obstacles stand in the way of widespread access. These are availability and affordability. By leveraging technology, we can widen healthcare access and help close the equity gap. Accessing healthcare can be especially problematic for patients living in rural areas, for instance. The lack of suitable healthcare providers, as well as the financial burden of travel and time off work can pose significant hurdles to receiving the care they need. Digital tools can help eliminate these barriers, thus improving access and affordability. It is crucial for innovators to first conduct a holistic assessment of the restrictions caused by unequal access to healthcare. By doing so, they can better identify and pinpoint the specific dimension of health inequity that their solution can target.
As a global health tech hub committed to inclusive development, Hong Kong will play a major role in supporting innovators in the development of solutions to tackle longstanding global healthcare challenges. I firmly believe that the work we do together will yield enormous returns for our local, regional, and global communities alike.
Before I finish, I would like to share with you the exciting progress my firm has made in promoting Hong Kong as a global health tech hub. Just a few months ago, in May, we had the pleasure of receiving a delegation of 15 health tech companies led by one of our partners based in Australia. The aim of the mission was to help health tech entrepreneurs access capital and scale in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. It was packed with a wide range of engaging activities, which enabled delegates to connect with potential investors and seek out new opportunities, including curated investor meetings, roundtable discussions, participation in the Asia Summit on Global Health as well as visits to key investment promotion institutions in Hong Kong. The mission concluded on a very positive note, and its resounding success has paved the way for another mission, which is scheduled to take place next month.
In closing, I would like to encourage you all to embrace the role of Hong Kong’s storyteller with pride. Indeed, it takes all of us to tell the Hong Kong story well. It is only through our collective endeavours that we can accurately convey the compelling narrative of Hong Kong as a global health tech hub. By joining hands to bring innovative healthcare to the rest of the world, we can open doors to a future of healthcare that is inclusive and accessible to all. On that note, I wish you all a very pleasant evening, and I am very much looking forward to the enlightening discussions we will share over dinner. Thank you very much.