The innovative testing solutions that kicked off global goodwill
As demand for rapid COVID-19 tests grew during the pandemic, Prenetics Limited, the diagnostics and genetic testing company founded by alumnus Lawrence Tzang Chi-hung and his team, responded quickly to a series of challenging missions. Prenetics assisted the HKSAR Government by conducting a massive amount of tests at various Community Testing Centres and Hong Kong’s airport in a swift manner. Internationally, the company provided efficient on-site testing to Premier League soccer teams, Hollywood film crews as well as five airports in United Kingdom. Such endeavours have brought global goodwill and a promising post-pandemic outlook for the company.
Looking back at his start-up journey from CityU, Lawrence is grateful to have met Professor Michael Yang Mengsu (CityU Senior Vice-President (Innovation & Enterprise) and Yeung Kin Man Chair Professor of Biomedical Sciences) who pointed him in the direction of scientific research. Multigene Diagnostics Limited, founded in 2009, was Lawrence’s initial foray into the business world. The company specialised in developing molecular diagnostics technologies to detect various diseases at an early stage for preventative purposes. In 2014, it attracted venture capital funding and was renamed Prenetics Limited, becoming Hong Kong's first unicorn to list on NASDAQ in 2022.
The pandemic greatly changed the testing industry, according to Lawrence, bringing an influx of testing work, all of which required fast and highly accurate results. This presented the company not only with business opportunities but also a good avenue to contribute to society, he said.
“Take the Premier League, a major global sporting event, as an example. The League was incurring great losses from matches being suspended due to COVID-19. We were the only company that within two weeks could propose a solution.” Under Prenetics’ proposal, samples could be taken from players from different clubs in carparks without the need to leave their vehicles. This involved almost zero contact. “Such an operational model, the first of its kind in the world, successfully paved the way for matches to resume,” he explained.
As the Prenetics team was already skilled in genetic testing, PCR tests were not difficult for the company to handle. However, collecting and testing of large quantities of samples within a limited period of time and working around the clock to ensure timely results required additional assistance from a large number of robots as well as the automated information management system. Prompt deployment of manpower was also needed to meet the HKSAR Government’s disease control requirements and the testing needs of travellers from different countries. In the achievement of these goals, Lawrence paid tribute to his dedicated team who handled huge quantities of samples yet never failed to deliver test reports within a short period of time.
Prenetics is now looking to build on its pandemic experiences to further assist people’s well-being. “As COVID-19 subsides, the company will make use of its advanced genetic testing technologies, and put a lot of resources on projects such as cancer screening and cancer companion diagnostic tests,” Lawrence said. “To this end, we acquired an Asian genetic testing company at the end of last year. The company’s co-founder is Professor Mok Shu-kam, an authority on lung cancer, further strengthening our R&D capability in this area.”