Hong Kong’s US$8 billion government fund inks deal with Beijing biotech start-up as city aims for tech hub status

The Hong Kong Investment Corporation (HKIC), a government-owned fund that manages HK$62 billion (US$8 billion) in assets, has struck a deal with a biotechnology firm started by Chinese internet giant Baidu founder Robin Li Yanhong, the fund’s second public move as the city seeks to boost its technology sector.

The partnership will see Beijing-based Biomap set up an accelerator called BioMap InnoHub, which will aim to support over 50 early-stage research and development (R&D) projects in cutting-edge life science, with priority given to projects recommended by universities and ecosystem partners in Hong Kong, the company said on Monday.

The HKIC will not only invest in Biomap, but will also lead its current financing round, meaning that the government fund is “setting the parameters and terms” of this round for other investors to follow, HKIC CEO Clara Chan Ka-chai said at a signing ceremony on Monday.

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Clara Chan Ka-chai, CEO of Hong Kong Investment Corp. Photo: Enoch Yiu

The CEO declined to disclose details of the investment at a media briefing after signing, saying only that Biomap’s new financing round has attracted interest from overseas institutional investors and companies.

Hong Kong has “solid foundation” in both AI and life science, and the city should endeavour to accelerate the development of bio computing to “seize the first mover advantage”, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said at the same ceremony.

Biomap, founded in 2020, is the second company the HKIC has partnered with since the fund’s establishment in October 2022, months after the Hong Kong government announced a high-profile initiative to transform the financial city into an innovation and technology (I&T) hub.

The HKIC earlier this month formed its first ever partnership with the city’s home-grown artificial intelligence (AI) unicorn SmartMore, enlisting the firm to use Hong Kong as its base of development and to make the city’s stock market its first choice if it goes public.

A screen grab shows Baidu co-founder and CEO Robin Li Yanhong during a CCTV interview. Photo: Handout

“We welcome companies such as Biomap to list on our stock exchange ... using our world class fundraising platform to grow bigger and stronger,” Paul Chan said.

Biomap, co-founded by Baidu’s Li and former Baidu Ventures chief executive Wei Liu, who serves as CEO of the start-up, provides large AI models for pharmaceutical companies and healthcare firms to speed up the discovery and development of new drugs and other life science products.

During Monday’s media briefing, Liu said Hong Kong’s experienced scholars and researchers in AI and life sciences were a key factor that drew the company to the city.

With customers in the US, Europe, mainland China and Hong Kong, the city was the only place that could connect everyone with its advantages in data protection and intellectual property protection, Liu added.

Biomap completed its US$100 million series A funding round in July 2021, and in November last year announced a collaboration with French drug maker Sanofi, which would pay Biomap US$1 billion if and when certain milestones are completed.

Biomap will also prioritise Hong Kong as an IPO destination in the future, according to Liu.

Health technology is among several industries the Hong Kong government has pledged to focus on developing in an I&T development blueprint it formulated in December 2022. Other industries of importance include data science, advanced manufacturing and new energy, it said.

The HKIC manages four funds, including a HK$30 billion Co-Investment Fund, and a HK$32 billion Hong Kong Growth Portfolio, which includes a HK$5 billion Strategic Tech Fund and a HK$5 billion Greater Bay Area Investment Fund.

HKIC’s board of directors is chaired by Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary. CEO Chan, a former Hong Kong Monetary Authority executive director, took up her role in October last year.

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