Oper Technology: A nanotechnology startup that isolates neural stem cells

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OPER Technology Limited was founded in 2014 in Hong Kong by Prof. Ken K.L. Yung (Chairman) and Dr. Cathy N.P. Lui (CEO) with an aim to commercialize and make practical use of their academic research findings on nanomaterial-based technologies. The company, located in Hong Kong Science Park, is a spin-off company from Hong Kong Baptist University and currently a member company of Incu-Bio Programme of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.

Prof Yung (Chairman)
Prof Yung (Chairman)

Prof. Yung and Dr. Cathy are the key inventors of the core technology, Autologous Neural Stem Cell (ANSc) Harvest, which was publicly announced by Hong Kong Baptist University in 2013. Innovation and Technology Commission awarded them a government funding called “Technology Startup Support Scheme for Universities” (TSSSU) for 3 consecutive years based on the high potential of ANSc Harvest to apply on humans for curing neurodegenerative diseases.

Product and services:

Oper technology has developed an innovative, secure, virus-free and tailor-made magnetic separation method for in situ isolation of an individuals’ own neural stem cells with their invented nanotechnology technique.

They aim to lead the world in solving neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Huntington’s Disease (HD), Spinal Cord Strokes Injuries (SCI) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) along with metastatic cancer.

Stem cell replacement therapy is one of the treatment options for neurodegenerative conditions but for brain diseases, this method is difficult due to the low levels of neural stem cells lying deep inside the brain which could be isolated only with invasive brain surgery and have limited chances of success. Another option is to use induced Pluripotent Stem Cells that are genetically modified adult stem cells obtained from different part of the body and modified with the help of viruses. However, use of viruses and genetic modification possess a risk to the individual.

This patented technology can overcome the shortcomings of the current stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine. The ANSc Harvest is the first and only technology in the world for extracting neural stem cells from live subjects without causing harm to their lives.

The technology works by injection of strategically designed magnetic nanoparticles conjugated with the antibodies into the lateral ventricles of the animal subjects.  The nanoparticles can specifically tag onto the neural stem cell lining on the ventricles. After the magnetic agitation, the nanoparticles-tagged neural stem cells can be safely and effortlessly detached.  Further culture for cell replacement can be made. It is cost effective and safe with minimal invasion, has a low tendency to form tumors, no genetic engineering along with viral-free isolation.

They are constantly working to improve their technology for use in precision medicine, regenerative medicine and personalized therapy for clinical use. They are currently facilitating research work by providing research products related to primary stem cells, drug discoveries and drug development.

Achievements:

At present, Oper Technology has been granted 4 US patents and 1 Hong Kong patent for their technologies and have also filed other patent applications in China and the EU. They are also planning to collaborate with one of the international pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of ANSc Harvest for human use.

Talking about their achievements, as a biotechnology startup in Hong Kong, the company has been actively gaining public-wide recognition for branding their technologies. Since their establishment, they have won many international and local industrial/ technological awards, including 2015 Red Herring Top 100 Global, 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Week Top 50 Companies, the 5th Bank of China (HK) FITMI Achievement Awards: ‘Technology start-up’ Gold Award, the 44th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva: Gold Medal (Surgery Category), the 5th China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition (Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan): First Runner-up in Entrepreneurial Group, GSK Neuro 2020 in Shanghai, China (2016).

Biotech Start-up Ecosystem in Hong Kong:

Sharing their thoughts on biotech startup ecosystem in Hong Kong, they say that it is not as intensive and mature as compared to other well-developed countries. Biotech startups do not have enough financial or promotional support and not enough channels to commercialize their products. Despite this, Hong Kong has been trying to play an important role as a ‘Super Connector’ between China and the globe. However, more work and efforts should be done to boost the biotechnology development in Hong Kong to level up its international standing to world class.

However, in recent years, the government has been taking a more active and concrete approach for biotechnology development in Hong Kong, for example, allocating more funds to support the commercialization of academic research results and joint effort between biotechnology startups and local research stations to carry out research work; designating more space for the use of innovation and technology entrepreneurship; increasing the incubation program quotas in Hong Kong Science Park and Cyberport.

Dr Cathy Lui (CEO), "Be proud of what you are doing and make a change to the world."
Dr Cathy Lui (CEO), “Be proud of what you are doing and make a change to the world.”