They won in the life science category under the Future Science Prize, which was announced yesterday. The award ceremony will be held in Beijing on November 21.

Yuen, 65, and Sri Lankan professor Peiris, 72, have contributed to people's understanding of emerging infectious diseases. They were applauded for their discovery of SARS-CoV-1 as the causative agent for the severe acute respiratory syndrome global outbreak in 2003 and its zoonotic origin, which helped combat Covid-19 and emerging infectious diseases.

The Future Science Prize website stated that during the SARS outbreak, the two professors and their team treated the first few patients in Hong Kong. Yuen has also continued studies on SARS-like viruses in wild bats.

A spokesman from HKU said the university is happy that the two distinguished scholars have been able to contribute toward some of the most important pathological discoveries in human history over the past two decades.

"The professors' receipt of this prestigious award is a well-deserved recognition of their achievements and an inspiration for our students and young researchers to pursue scientific advances for the benefit of mankind," said Gabriel Leung, HKU's dean of medicine.

HKU president Zhang Xiang also congratulated the two for winning the award.

The Future Science Prize is a privately funded award established by a group of scientists and entrepreneurs in 2016. The cofounder of the search engine Baidu, Robin Li Yanhong, is one of the donors for the life science prize.

The award, known as China's Nobel Prize, aims at recognizing scientific breakthroughs and innovations in the Greater China region.

This year, Shanghai Jiao Tong University professor Zhang Jie won the physical science prize while Taiwan's National Chiao Tung University honorary chair professor Simon Sze Min won the mathematics and computer science prize.