CEO SUMMARY: In the 1960s, it was a race to be first in space between the United States and the Soviet Union. This decade, it’s a race to be first in genetic and precision medicine between the U.S. and China. To that end, the Chinese government has budgeted $9 billion as an investment to further research and development of genetic technologies and their use in precision medicine. One irony in this situation is that many of China’s 20,000 hospitals lack the same expertise and subspecialist capabilities in anatomic pathology and laboratory medicine that are common in the West.
CHINA IS UPPING THE ANTE by a big margin in the race to use genetics to revolutionize how health is improved and disease is treated. In January 2015, President Obama was praised when he announced a $215 million investment in precision medicine.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has an initiative with similar goals but with a much larger budget: $9 billion!
Ylan Q. Mui reported in The Washington Post last week that the Chinese effort is significant. The United States has been the undisputed leader in the use of genomics, she wrote. “But now China is emerging as America’s fiercest competitor, and it is sinking billions of dollars into research and is funding promising new companies both at home and abroad,” she added.
In her article, Mui quoted Eric Schadt, PhD, Director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, Chair of the Department of Genetics and Genomics Sciences, and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “I’m very frustrated at how aggressively China is investing in this space while the U.S. is not moving with the same kind of purpose,” Schadt said. “China has established themselves as a really competitive force.”
China’s $9 billion investment in precision medicine is designed to sequence genes and develop customized new drugs based on that data, Mui reported.
“The U.S. system has more dexterity and agility than the Chinese system,” Mui wrote, quoting Denis Simon, Executive Vice Chancellor of Duke Kunshan University in China, a partnership of Duke University and Wuhan University. “But the learning curve in China is very powerful, and the Chinese are moving fast. The question is not if. The question is when.”
public, private Investments
One part of the Chinese effort involves investments by private companies and the Chinese government into American start-up genomics companies, Mui reported.
Since 2000, China has invested more than $3.6 billion into our health and biotechnology sector, according to the Rhodium Group, a consulting firm, she added.
Another part of the Chinese effort involves companies such as WuXi NextCODE, a genomic information and precision medicine company with operations in Shanghai, Cambridge, Mass., and Reykjavik, Iceland. In February 2016, WuXi (pronounced woo-she) announced that its Shanghai sequencing lab was accredited by the College of American Pathologists and was the first lab in China to be licensed by the State of California. At the time, it was the only sequencing facility in China that was CLIA certified.
Six National projects
Just last week, Allison Proffitt reported for BioITWorld that the National Heart Centre of Singapore had chosen WuXi NextCODE to work on its 18-month proof-of-concept precision medicine project for cardiovascular disease. The project is a first step in Singapore’s national precision medicine initiative, she wrote. In the project, researchers will conduct whole genome sequencing on cardiovascular patients and on a control group of healthy patients. Although the exact number of patients who will participate in the project has not been released, WuXi NextCODE COO Hannes Smarason expects a few thousand cardiovascular and healthy patients will be involved, Proffitt reported.
For WuXi NextCODE, the Singapore project is its sixth national program, along with others in China, England, Iceland, Ireland, and Qatar, Proffitt wrote. Its platform is capable of handling data from hundreds of thousands of participants.
WuXi NextCODE is a division of WuXi AppTec, a company with an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion and 14,000 employees worldwide. Ge Li, PhD, a former laboratory scientist, founded WuXi in 2000. On WuXi’s website, Li is quoted as saying, “Our vision is to become the most comprehensive capability and technology platform in the global pharmaceutical and healthcare industry to fulfill the dream of ‘every drug can be made and every disease can be treated.’”
Here in the United States, WuXi has invested in 23andMe, tests medical devices in St. Paul, Minn., develops biologics in Atlanta, and it is opening a bio-manufacturing plant in Philadelphia, Mui reported in The Washington Post.
At one time, WuXi’s largest division was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but the company is privately owned today, Mui wrote. It may go public again on a Chinese exchange, she added.
For Mui, Smarason described WuXi NextCODE this way: “We’re a U.S. company in the U.S., but we’re a Chinese company in China. We’re local in every market.”
Cloud project Takes Flight
In May 2016, BioITWorld reported that WuXi AppTec was partnering with Huawei, an information and communications technology company in Shenzhen, China, to launch the China Precision Medicine Cloud to support the Chinese government’s precision medicine initiative and to link researchers across China through a secure nationwide network.
For the cloud project, Huawei will contribute its national cloud-computing network, WuXi AppTec provides the sequencing capability, and WuXi NextCODE will organize, mine, and share the data, BioITWorld reported.
“WuXi AppTec and WuXi NextCODE solutions already meet many U.S. standards, and have proven their ability on large, collaborative projects,” BioITWorld wrote. For example, in 2015, Genomics England named WuXi NextCODE to be its first clinical interpretation partner in the field of cancer, BioITWorld reported.