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Senate panel advances China biotech bill

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Mar 6, 2024
Illustration of a DNA strand with the middle link having a no-go sign

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today advanced a bill that aims to cut off U.S. taxpayer funding for select Chinese biotech companies in a broad bipartisan vote.

Why it matters: The 11-1 tally illustrated the broad sentiment for responding to China's growing influence in biopharma, even though the bill has prompted widespread concern over disrupting supply chains and quashing innovation.

Between the lines: The legislation, sponsored by committee Chair Gary Peters and Sen. Bill Hagerty, shows how the tough stance toward China is spreading from national security matters to biotech.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, the ranking member of the panel, was the only senator to vote no, and the only senator to even speak about the measure in the markup, highlighting the momentum for enacting it.
  • Backers say that Chinese companies like BGI, which is named in the bill text, have ties to the Chinese government and could use genetic data they collect for nefarious means, including even developing a bioweapon.

The other side: BGI has said it "only serves institutional and corporate clients in the U.S. for research purposes" and "has no access to Americans' personal data."

  • Paul, for his part, said he had "no love lost for some of these companies," but worried about the broader effects.
  • "I do worry though that as our anger builds with China, that this idea of disengaging really has an overlay of provincial interests in this," Paul said. "By banning certain companies we're advantaging certain other companies."
  • He also raised concerns that one of the companies in the bill, which he did not name, has "many different applications throughout the supply chain that we haven't really fully researched enough."
  • The U.S. biotech industry has warned that vague language in the bill and overly broad terms could sweep up any number of companies — and that targeting certain Chinese biotechs could disrupt interwoven research and development.

What's next: Backers of the bill are likely to look for a larger vehicle to move it. There is not much time before the March 22 government funding measure, but the National Defense Authorization Act later in the year also could be a natural landing place.

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