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BIO targeted for work on China biotech bill

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Mar 12, 2024
Illustration of a Chinese flag and a US flag chasing rotating.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The congressional push to crack down on Chinese biotech firms is extending to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, or BIO, and questions about whether it should register as a foreign agent for its advocacy on behalf of one of the targeted interests.

Why it matters: It shows how lobbying against a bill that would cut off taxpayer funding to the Chinese companies is itself becoming a target for China hawks in Congress.

What they're saying: House Select Committee on the CCP Chairman Mike Gallagher asked Attorney General Merrick Garland for a Justice Department review of BIO's lobbying against Gallagher's bill and whether such circumstances merit changes to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

  • Gallagher pointed to WuXi AppTec, one of the companies singled out in Gallagher's Biosecure Act, which is a member of BIO and has been listed in the bill as a "biotechnology company of concern" that poses a national security threat.
  • "BIO's advocacy on behalf of WuXi Apptec — intended to protect the company's access and commercial ties in the United States despite the risk to U.S. national security — is aligned with the interests of the CCP and PRC government," Gallagher wrote.

The other side: BIO maintains that it's doing its job. "It is an advocacy organization's mission and duty to let Congress know the impacts of their potential policies on the American public and in our case on patients," CEO John Crowley said in a statement.

  • Last month, BIO wrote a letter to senators raising "serious concerns" with a companion bill that was advanced out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
  • BIO pointed to the intertwined nature of commercial interests in drug development, making it hard to target only Chinese companies without spillover to U.S. players.
  • "In its current form, this legislation will do untold damage to the drug development supply chain both for treatments currently approved and on market as well as for development pipelines decades in the making," the letter stated.

The big picture: Senate Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Rand Paul raised some of these concerns at the markup last week, including that one of the targeted companies has "many different applications throughout the supply chain that we haven't really fully researched enough."

  • But Paul was the only senator to vote against the bill, which advanced 11-1.

What's next: Garland hasn't publicly commented on the matter.

  • Beyond attempts to influence policy and public opinion, FARA requires registration for activities including trade promotion on behalf of a foreign principal, per Open Secrets.
  • It's still possible that the China biotech language could be added to a vehicle like the National Defense Authorization Act later this year, if concerns from BIO and other industry players don't slow it down.
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