As part of an official visit to Vietnam, the UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond paid a site visit to the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) on 12 April 2016, accompanied by the British Ambassador and the British Council Country Director. The Foreign Secretary was warmly welcomed by VAST senior management and Newton Fund awardees currently working at VAST.

Under the Newton Fund, VAST’s Institute of Chemistry and Brighton University have recently been awarded an Institutional Links grant to undertake a two-year research project on “The formulation of curcumin preparation with enhanced bioavailability for manufacturing in Vietnam”*.  The Vietnamese co-Principal Investigator of the joint research project, Dr Tu,  gave the Foreign Secretary some background about the project, which had been previously and successfully supported by British Council and the FCO, and led him through the various lab and production facilities to see the research work at first hand. The Secretary also enjoyed a quick chat with three scientists at VAST who shared their experience as beneficiaries of the Newton Researcher Links Travel grants and Leaders in Innovation Fellowship programmes in the UK. The Foreign Secretary took a keen interest in the curcurmin project showing a detailed level of understanding of the research challenges outlined by the PI. The visit was much appreciated by VAST staff who went to considerable lengths to make the short visit a success and to demonstrate the mutual benefit of UK-VN research collaboration under the Newton Fund. Before leaving VAST, the Secretary gave an interview to VTV1 (equivalent of BBC1) to share his impressions about the Newton project at VAST and more broadly about the achievements of the Newton Fund Vietnam and perspectives for the future.

In addition to this Newton event, the Newton Fund was mentioned specifically in the UK Foreign Secretary’s meetings with the new PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc and the Deputy PM cum Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. We encouraged Vietnam to streamline the decision making process and increase its financial contribution to the Newton Fund. These points were acknowledged by the Vietnamese hosts. During the Foreign Secretary’s visit there were also opportunities to engage more closely with Ministry of Education and Training and the Vietnam National University Hanoi which is a leading Vietnamese University.

* Note on the project: It aims to develop products derived from turmeric that can be marketed globally.  Curcumin is poorly absorbed when given as a tablet or capsule, its limited solubility being a major factor. This work will develop a curcumin-containing tablet or capsule using soluble carriers or dispersible oils that are acceptable, stable and optimise bioavailability. These will be need to be manufactured sustainably (in terms of environmental and economic factors) within Vietnam using locally available materials.

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