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House panel targets Chinese biotech companies

Illustration of a medical red cross under spotlights on a stage.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A new bipartisan bill aims to cut off key Chinese biotech companies from U.S. taxpayer funding, highlighting the increasing convergence of health care and national security.

Why it matters: BGI Group, a company targeted by the bill and the world's biggest genomics company, was included on a Defense Department blacklist of Chinese military companies directly or indirectly doing business in the U.S.

  • Bill sponsors say they're worried the company might collect genetic information that potentially could be used to develop a bioweapon targeting Americans.
  • The bill "advances the broader concern that biotechnology is increasingly being viewed as a national security issue," wrote Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins.

Details: The bill from Reps. Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi, leaders of the House Select Committee on the CCP, would restrict federally funded health providers from buying equipment and services from "foreign adversary biotech companies," specifically BGI Group, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute.

  • The bill would effectively cut off BGI and companies that use its technology from taxpayer funding.
  • It delegates the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with executive branch agencies, to develop a list of other biotechnology companies of concern.
  • But it singles out "BGI, MGI, Complete Genomics, Wuxi 20 Apptec, and any subsidiary, parent affiliate, or 21 successor of such entities." A press release from the sponsors identifies the businesses as subsidiaries of BGI Group or affiliates of the military wing of the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Sens. Bill Hagerty, Gary Peters, Mitt Romney and Roger Marshall have introduced corresponding legislation in the Senate.

What they're saying: "Beijing Genomics Institute collects genetic data of Americans uses it for research with the Chinese military," said Gallagher, who chairs the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.

  • "The CCP will undoubtedly use the genetic data collected by BGI to further its malign aggression, potentially even to develop a bioweapon used to target the American people."

The other side: "In the US, BGI does not operate clinical laboratories or collect patient samples, and has no access to personal or genetic data," the company said in a statement. "Our company serves only institutional and corporate clients for research purposes in areas such as cancer and medical treatment, and we follow all the data protection rules and regulations."

  • It argued the bill would "restrict competition, raise healthcare costs, and limit access to technologies."

Of note: The bill includes multiple waivers, such as if the biotech equipment or service in question is necessary to support overseas health services, national security or intelligence services.

  • Such broad exemptions mean the bill "may not have any substantive impact even if it becomes law," Meekins said.
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