The New York Times
Monday, December 31, 2012
Chinese Firm Is Cleared to Buy American DNA Sequencing Company
By ANDREW POLLACK
The federal government has given national security clearance to the controversial purchase of an American DNA sequencing company by a Chinese firm.
The Chinese firm, BGI-Shenzhen, said in a statement this weekend that its acquisition of Complete Genomics, based in Mountain View, Calif., had been cleared by the federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews the national security implications of foreign takeovers of American companies. The deal still requires antitrust clearance by the Federal Trade Commission.
Some scientists, politicians and industry executives had said the takeover represented a threat to American competitiveness in DNA sequencing, a technology that is becoming crucial for the development of drugs, diagnostics and improved crops.
The fact that the $117.6 million deal was controversial at all reflects a change in the genomics community.
A decade ago, the Human Genome Project, in which scientists from many nations helped unravel the genetic blueprint of mankind, was celebrated for its spirit of international cooperation. One of the participants in the project was BGI, which was then known as the Beijing Genomics Institute.
But with DNA sequencing now becoming a big business and linchpin of the biotechnology industry, international rivalries and nationalism are starting to move front and center in any acquisition.
Much of the alarm about the deal has been raised by Illumina, a San Diego company that is the market leader in sequencing machines. It has potentially the most to lose from the deal because BGI might buy fewer Illumina products and even become a competitor. Weeks after the BGI deal was announced, Illumina made its own belated bid for Complete Genomics, offering 15 cents a share more than BGI’s bid of $3.15. But Complete Genomics rebuffed Illumina, saying such a merger would never clear antitrust review.
Illumina also hired a Washington lobbyist, the Glover Park Group, to stir up opposition to the deal in Congress. Representative Frank R. Wolf, Republican of Virginia, was the only member of Congress known to have publicly expressed concern.