China banks on gene power firms for ‘precision medicine’

(From Caixin Online)

By staff reporter Wang Qionghui

The Chinese government is powering a homegrown “precision medicine” initiative aimed at improving patient treatment for chronic ailments such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

Human genome

Human genome

Officials have declared precision medicine – a customized form of health care based on genome-sequencing technology – as one of the nation’s foremost science and technology projects under the 13th Five-Year Plan for the 2016-20 period.

A document published after a March meeting hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology says the central government plans to spend 20 billion yuan to support precision medicine research by 2030, matching an anticipated 40 billion yuan in private investment. Moreover, the top public health authority, the National Health and Family Planning Commission, is drafting a strategic plan for promoting precision medicine’s development nationwide.

Companies that expect to benefit from the initiative include Shenzhen-based BGI Genomics Co., Hangzhou’s Berry Genomics Co. and Beijing Biomarker Technologies. Although young, the genetics services sector in the country is already diversifying, with firms staking claims in specialties such as prenatal care and niche services like disease and cancer detection through genetic testing.

BGI, the nation’s leader in genome sequencing, is a 16-year-old company that bought U.S. medical equipment maker Complete Genomics in 2012 and last October rolled out its first homegrown genome sequencing machine. Berry, established in 2010, is China’s second-largest genome sequencer and the developer of non-invasive prenatal testing procedure that’s been offered since 2011. Beijing Biomarker, founded in 2009, serves research institutions with genetic analyses and testing services.

The precision medicine movement has also won the attention of Internet and computer companies. In October, the U.S. chip maker Intel Corp. and China’s e-commerce leader Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. announced a three-way partnership with BGI. The firms said they will collaborate to build a cloud-based online platform allowing clinics to access genetic data and other precision medicine services.

“Precision medicine requires sharing an individual’s genetic data and comparing it to huge amounts of data from similar patients,” said Li Yingrui, chief executive of BGI Tech Solution Co., a subsidiary of BGI. Health specialists then use those comparisons “to find differences and similarities to work out precise treatment regimes for individual patients.” Read more



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