EXCLUSIVE Polish gene project set to ditch Chinese tech over data glitches
WARSAW, Sept. 22 (Reuters) – An EU-funded project to build a genomic map of Poland plans to ditch the gene sequencing technology from Chinese group BGI (300676.SZ) over concerns about the safety of data, one of the project’s managers told Reuters. .
Concerns over Poland’s genomic map stem from questions about the use of Polish genomic data related to national security, said Marek Figlerowicz, professor at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry at the Polish Academy of Sciences who is leading the project. .
Figlerowicz said the concerns were originally raised by a report earlier this year from the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), which said BGI could serve as a “global collection mechanism for Chinese government DNA databases.”
BGI told Reuters that the US report was “disinformation, not supported by the facts”; The Chinese Foreign Ministry called it “baseless accusations and defamation.”
A spokesperson for the NSCAI said it was sticking to its report and recommended that the United States and its allies double down on techniques to better protect patient privacy. Since 2015, Beijing has banned foreign researchers from accessing genetic data on Chinese people.
In August, a human genetics committee at the Polish Academy of Sciences declared that a “lack of compliance” of what it called “Far Eastern companies” with the principles of the ethics of genetic testing raised serious doubts. He did not name any company or country, but urged laboratories and scientific institutions that sequence genetic material abroad to stop using biotech companies there.
He said about 100,000 complete Polish genomes could already be in “Far Eastern” laboratories, citing a rough estimate that Reuters could not verify. Poland has no control over this sensitive personal data, the committee said.
Figlerowicz said the genomic map, which is expected to cost more than 100 million zlotys ($ 25.35 million) and is about halfway through its Polish 5,000 genome sequencing program, has outsourced the third party work since 2019.
This company, Central Europe Genomics Center sp. z oo (CEGC), started using BGI technology last year, he said; now Figlerowicz has said that Poland’s genomic map has decided not to send genetic data out of the country and is likely to void the contract it has with CEGC. He added that the final decision, which has yet to be approved by funding institutions, is expected within a week or two.
As DNA sequencing technology has advanced and become cheaper, Figlerowicz said, the mapping project plans to bring the remaining sequencing in-house. The project wants to guarantee Poland genomic “independence” in order to guarantee data security.
CEGC did not respond to requests for comment. Poznan-based biotech company Inno-Gene SA, which has a minority stake in CEGC, said it was not aware of a possible cancellation.
The European Union, which provided about 65% of the total funding for the genomic map, did not respond to a request for comment. The Polish Ministry of Education and the National Institute for Information Processing either, also involved in the financing of the project. Polish special services declined to comment.
Reuters reported in July that BGI had developed and improved a prenatal screening test sold in at least 52 countries in conjunction with People’s Liberation Army hospitals.
BGI rejects any suggestion that it developed the test, dubbed NIFTY, in collaboration with the military, and says working with military hospitals is not equivalent.
“BGI takes all aspects of data protection, privacy and ethics very seriously,” the company said in a statement on the Polish ruling, adding that it complies with all applicable laws and regulations in terms of data protection.
“We value the business and research relationships we have with all of our partners and customers in Poland and look forward to continuing our collaboration with them. “
($ 1 = 3.9448 zlotys)
Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Edited by Sara Ledwith
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