Senators Seek Details on Sharing US Genomic Data With Companies Linked to China’s Government
Posted 13 June 2019 | By
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter earlier this week to the Acting Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services raising concerns about the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) paying for genetic testing or analysis services from companies with ties to the Chinese government.
The letter singles out WuXi Nextcode Genomics (WuXi) and Shenzhen BGI Technology Company (BGI) as publicly touting their partnerships with Huawei, a state-directed Chinese telecommunications company, to expand genomic analytics.
WuXi in 2016 became the first genetic sequencing facility in China to gain CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) certification from CMS, while in March 2019, MGI announced plans to expand into the US market.
“We therefore request that the OIG, in coordination with relevant Intelligence Community agencies, review CMS payments to determine whether it has made payments for genetic testing to U.S. entities with partnerships to BGI, WuXi and any other company with ties to the Chinese government,” Grassley and Rubio write.
They also requested that the OIG determine whether CMS considers national security risks when determining whether payments are permissible to providers with partnerships with Chinese-affiliated companies. And they sought OIG recommendations "on ways to mitigate national security risks related to Americans' genomic data with respect to CMS payments."
Grassley and Rubio noted that taxpayers cover the costs of CMS payments, so, “They have every right to know if their money has gone to entities connected to the Chinese government.”
In a statement, WuXi did not deny its connections to China’s government but clarified that its headquarters is in Cambridge, MA, and that the majority of senior management and board members are US citizens.
“With respect to the concern of genomic data storage in the Letter, we would like to emphasize that we always separate the genomic data storage for our business in the U.S. and our business in China,” WuXi said. “For our U.S. business, we currently use a leading U.S. cloud service provider; and for China-based business, we currently use a leading Chinese cloud service provider (which is not Huawei).”
The letter’s release follows a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing
, chaired by Grassley, investigating actions by foreign entities to disrupt or influence research from the National Institutes of Health.