An Angel in Cell Therapeutics

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Making Positive Impact on Disease Treatment

An Angel in Cell Therapeutics

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Dr. Melody Chung Jin-Teng, currently postdoctoral researcher at HKUST and co-founder of Allegrow Biotech Ltd.
Dr. Melody Chung Jin-Teng, currently postdoctoral researcher at HKUST and co-founder of Allegrow Biotech Ltd. [Download Photo]

Meet Dr. Melody CHUNG Jin-Teng, a HKUST-nurtured female researcher and entrepreneur whose delivery technology start-up Allegrow Biotech Ltd. (“Allegrow”) is ensuring needy patients can easily access affordable top quality cell therapeutics.

A passionate desire to make a lasting impact

Currently combining her postdoctoral research at HKUST with her role as Allegrow co-founder, Melody’s passion for making a difference took root while studying for her BSc in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Guided by the International Research Enrichment (“IRE”) initiative, she seized the opportunity to conduct research while mentored by experienced faculty members. Key figures who subsequently monitored her progress included current HKUST President and The Morningside Professor of Life Science, Prof. Nancy IP, and Adjunct Professor at our University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Prof. TANG Ben-Zhong.

Melody at Prof. Ip’s birthday party
Melody completed her undergraduate final year project in Prof. Nancy Ip’s Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience in 2017. Photo taken at Prof. Ip’s birthday party.

Group photo with Prof. TANG Ben-Zhong
Melody joined the undergraduate summer research program in Prof. Tang Ben-Zhong’s aggregation-induced emission lab in 2015.

“Working in the lab gave me great sense of accomplishment, as I was able to contribute to some new knowledge and ideas,” says Melody. Having ignited her passion for changing our world for the better, she went on to study for MPhil and PhD in Bioengineering as a postgraduate student here.

“I am determined to move beyond ‘Why’ and on to ‘How’. In addition to understanding diseases’ underlying causes, I want to use my knowledge to positively impact disease treatment.”

While studying for her PhD, Melody formed a team of five and entered the Hong Kong Techathon 2022. Exploring new applications for lab-based hydrogel-creation techniques, the team pioneered a novel cell-mimicking platform called AimGel that optimizes cell therapy growth conditions. 

Cell therapy is a scientific discipline that uses living cells to treat and potentially cure diseases such as cancer. As growing therapeutic cells outside the human body is far from easy, traditional cell therapy requires costly and time-consuming manual manufacturing processes. AimGel makes cell therapy more affordable by creating a robust and controllable physiological environment that accelerates the generation of therapeutic cells.

The AimGel team wins the Champion in the Humanities and Health Tech category at the Hong Kong Techathon 2022
The AimGel team won the championship in the humanities and health tech category at the Hong Kong Techathon 2022.

The innovative AimGel business plan was awarded the Champion title in Hong Kong Techathon 2022’s humanities and health tech category, which was a turning point for Melody’s career change from researcher to entrepreneur. The award enabled them to access the seeding fund and Ideation Programme assistance they needed to establish Allegrow and launch AimGel commercially.

When said or read quickly, AimGel sounds like ‘Angel’, which perfectly encapsulates our ambition of helping needy patients.

Allegrow was awarded the Gold medal in Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions in 2023. The Geneva Invention Exhibition is the world’s largest annual event devoted exclusively to inventions.
Allegrow was awarded the Gold medal at the 48th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva in 2023, which is the world’s largest annual event devoted exclusively to inventions.

Personality means more than gender

With Allegrow now two years old, Melody and her colleagues are striving to get the extra funding and exposure they need to expand by participating in more competitions and attracting more investors. “I’ve seen more women involved on judging panels. Where 10-person judging panels a few years back may have had just one female member, such panels are now split 50:50 between men and women,” says Melody. “More women are turning out to take leadership roles. This gives me a lot of motivation to devote into the research and entrepreneurship field.”

Allegrow crowns the champion of Jumpstarter 2023 Global Pitch Competition.
Allegrow was crowned the champion of Jumpstarter 2023 Global Pitch Competition.

As a firm believer in equal opportunities in the workplace, Melody emphasizes that personal qualities such as creativity, risk-taking, responsibility, and presentability are far more important than gender. 

I think women are now seen more equally. Rather than gender, I believe people now focus more on personality. 

Melody considers empathy to be one of female entrepreneurs’ biggest strengths. “When making presentations, my top priority is to forge a strong emotional connection that will make audience members more receptive to my ideas.” She also cares deeply about her employees’ life needs and career goals. “If a team member wants to take his or her career to the next stage by, say, working overseas, I will do all I can to help better equip them to make that jump.”

Group photo at Raising Stars Women in Engineering Workshop 2023.
As a female researcher and entrepreneur, Melody has participated in a number of female-oriented activities and competitions, including the Rising Stars Women in Engineering Workshop 2023.

Melody in She Loves Tech 2023 HK & Macao Top 10 Finalist Pitching.
M​​​​​elody in She Loves Tech 2023 HK & Macao Top 10 Finalist Pitching. She Loves Tech is a global start-up competition for women and technology. (Photo credit: She Loves Tech)

Mentorship matters

Seamlessly transitioning from research to entrepreneurship is a challenging process. Melody remains grateful for the support she received from HKUST’s Entrepreneurship Center, Office of Knowledge Transfer, and various mentors when she made that move herself. 

“Successful business pitches and networking require making many presentations. Thankfully, HKUST’s Entrepreneurship Center has been very supportive in providing valuable suggestions and guidance, helping us to polish our presentation skills and encouraging us to enter key competitions. The University’s Office of Knowledge Transfer has also shown us how to better protect our research ideas by following the proper patenting processes.”

Melody at her presentation at 2023 Techinnovation in Singapore.
Melody has received a lot of help and support from HKUST’s Office of Knowledge Transfer and Entrepreneurship Center in various pitching competitions, tech showcases and investment presentations. Photo taken at 2023 Techinnovation in Singapore.

Melody also reiterated the importance of mentorship. In doing so, she cited her Allegrow co-founders Prof. CHAU Ying and Dr. Laurence LAU Chi-Ming as being her life mentors in helping her to hone her research expertise, whole person development, and presentation skills.

Melody with her life mentors Prof. Chau (center) and Laurence (left) after winning the HKUST-Sino 1M Entrepreneurship Competition.
Melody with her life mentors Prof. Chau (center) and Dr. Lau (left) after winning the HKUST-Sino One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition.

“I couldn’t have got this far without their unstinting support,” said Melody. She encourages other young women in the STEM field to seek out mentors who can guide and show them how to minimize trial and error for themselves.

Put yourself out there and look for the right mentor, you’ll become a better you.

Melody's drawing.
Beyond research and entrepreneurship, Melody is also passionate about arts. She was part of the HKUST +VibEs Art Organizing Committee from Dean of Students’ Office during her PhD years.

Photo taken at the semester-end party with students and Prof. Chau, the instructor at LG7 lawn.
Melody is also a mentor herself, serving as teaching assistant for BIEN 4000B in 2021 fall, where she got nominated by the students and Prof. Chau to receive the best teaching assistant award in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in 2021-22. Photo taken at the semester-end party with students and Prof. Chau, the instructor, at LG7 lawn.

Photo Credit: Melody CHUNG Jin-Teng

(This story was originally published by the HKUST Global Engagement and Communications Office here.)