Tatler Hong Kong

Terence Lau harnesses advanced diagnostics to help relieve the misery of respiratory disease

Researching scientific frontiers is a noble pursuit—but for Terence Lau, it wasn’t enough.

“As a scientist, I enjoy doing research and taking part in new inventions,” he says. “But ending the R&D journey with just an academic paper is not what I desire; my goal is to commercialise innovative products and to turn them into day-to-day, practical applications.”

With Emerging Viral Diagnostics Limited, or EVDL—the company he co-founded in 2015 and is president of—he’s certainly done that. Its Avalon Automated Multiplex System (AAMST) can help diagnose more than 40 diseases simultaneously, and can do so in about an hour, extremely accurately and at relatively low cost.

The company, which has a manufacturing facility at the Medical Accessory Resilience Supplies Manufacturing Centre—or Mars Centre—in Tai Po InnoPark, was formed by a team of senior scientists that includes Lau’s co-founder and the company’s chairman, Dr Manson Fok. They all have academic research backgrounds; Lau is also the interim chief innovation officer of Hong Kong Baptist University, as well as a senior advisor to the president and vice-chancellor, and an honorary professor in the School of Chinese Medicine.

Pandemic progress

The idea of inventing the system, he says, was sparked by a conversation with academic colleagues during a coffee break.

“We were looking for something that would be of assistance in the community. As medical doctors and scientists who witnessed SARS in 2003, we knew human beings would repeatedly be affected by infectious diseases. We asked why, even after SARS, we still didn’t have techniques for doctors to distinguish or diagnose infectious respiratory diseases.

“We saw that the market had long been lacking a comprehensive yet rapid, fully automated, low-cost, easy-to-operate diagnostics system. This was where our journey started: from an unmet medical need to a practical, innovative solution that can benefit the society. We didn’t know there would be a pandemic which locked down the whole world for as long as three years.”

The pandemic represented a turning point for the company, which was able to quickly incorporate the disease in AAMST’s respiratory panel, announcing the breakthrough at a press conference at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in early 2020.

ABOVE EVDL co-founder Terence Lau
(Photo: Lamb Yu / Tatler Hong Kong)

“We received tremendous feedback and support from both mainland China and HKSAR governments and industry partners such as Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP),” says Lau. “That’s another critical milestone that brought us from R&D to production and paved the way for commercialisation. HKSTP’s Innopark and EVDL came across each other at a perfect time. The recently revamped Mars Centre provides us with a good base for a top-notch production line so that we can have our full focus on technology. At the same time, HKSTP has also lined us up with different industry partners in InnoPark, and with that we see great synergy in pushing Hong Kong’s technology and manufacturing forward.”

The pandemic also confirmed the company’s belief in the importance of local production. “When Covid emerged, the whole world was fighting for PPE and diagnostic tools. Having locally available medical reserves was indispensable.”

Demand for early diagnostics

In addition to respiratory diseases, AAMST is able to identify other infectious diseases and even cancers. It also has the potential to go beyond medical applications, for instance in the environmental, agricultural and food safety fields.

“We want to popularise the system so that it’s in every single point of care. We could even put it in a pharmacy or in a 7-Eleven. We’re working on miniaturising the device and further lowering the cost. We’re trying to make it so that one day, it’s as easy to obtain—and to use—as a pregnancy test.

“I’m pleased we have so many people doing something to help the society.”