China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has recently made public that it issued a fine to Chinese gene giant BGI in 2015 for cooperating with UK University of Oxford on a genomics research project targeting Chinese people. The project allegedly involved delivering gene data of Chinese residents abroad over the internet.
BGI responded to inquiries in a filing on October 28 by saying that the Chinese DNA sequencing project, which involved genomic data of 140,000 female Chinese citizens, was conducted by a Chinese research and development team within the country, and therefore did not risk any data going overseas.
The company added that the gene data was collected under the consent of residents who have agreed to contribute the sample and data for scientific research. Only group analysis results were published. The resident identity and data are kept confidential, according to the announcement.
The authority ordered BGI to stop the research, destroy the genetic materials and research data that are not transported overseas and suspend all Chinese human genetic research that involves a foreign partner. A series of rectifications were conducted in line with the order since 2015.
The company claims that administrative punishment did not have any substantial impact on the company’s operations, because the business affected only accounts for a small part of their revenue and it has been resumed after rectification.
As China’s largest genomics company, BGI Genomics made a splashy debut when shares surged 8 fold on its trading on July 14 last year. The company’s rise is contributed to China’s growing genetics testing market, which is expected to more than triple to RMB 42 billion ($6.04 billion) by 2021, according to China Investment Consulting Corp.
While the market booms, the concerns about data safety also surfaced. In addition to BGI, five other companies including WuXi AppTech, AstraZeneca and AmoyDx have received fines over 2016 to 2018 for violating China’s Interim Measures for the Administration of Human Genetic Resources.
BGI’s market cap slumped to a historical low of around RMB 50 apiece after the 2015 fine was made public.