Exclusive: China's gene giant says prenatal test not developed in partnership with military, saying Reuters' report 'factually incorrect'
Published: Jul 08, 2021 06:14 PM
Photo: courtesy of BGI

Photo: courtesy of BGI

A leading Chinese gene company BGI Group told the Global Times on Thursday that it has never provided data from its non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) to Chinese authorities and the prenatal tests were not developed in partnership with China's military and it strictly adheres to national and international requirements on data privacy. The company was responding to Reuters' report which it calls "factually incorrect."

BGI made a clarification in a statement sent to the Global Times on Thursday afternoon, saying that "Assertions that BGI is motivated by anything other than the advancement of health outcomes are both deeply disappointing and factually incorrect."

The statement came after Reuters reported on Wednesday that a prenatal test taken by millions of pregnant women globally was developed by BGI Group in collaboration with the Chinese military and is being used by the firm to collect genetic data.

Reuters said that the US sees BGI's efforts to collect and analyze human gene data as a national security threat.

According to the statement, BGI has never been asked to provide, nor has it provided data from its Non-Invasive Fetal TrisomY test to Chinese authorities for national security or national defense security purposes.

Contrary to the Reuters report, DNA data collected from prenatal tests on women outside China are not stored in a gene bank in Chinese mainland, BGI said. All NIPT data collected overseas are stored in BGI's laboratory in Hong Kong and are destroyed after five years, as stipulated by General Data Protection Regulation, which was drafted and passed by the European Union and is widely recognized as the toughest privacy and security law in the world. 

Contrary to assertions by Reuters, BGI's NIPT test was developed solely by BGI - not in partnership with China's military, the statement noted.

At no stage throughout the testing or research process does BGI have access to any identifiable personal data or the ability to match that data with personal records, it said.

"Wherever BGI undertakes research, we strictly comply with local laws, guidelines, and protocols, while adhering to internationally recognized ethical standards. The data privacy standards BGI applies to its research meet strict national and international requirements, including the GDPR in EU," BGI said.

The company noted that it collaborates with many academic and research organizations not just in China, but also in the US, the UK and Europe. These collaborations have led to significant advances in medical science that have improved population health outcomes around the world.

BGI's NIPT tests have been used around the world to identify genetic conditions during pregnancy. These tests provide doctors with the scientific basis to assist millions of pregnant women, leading to better health outcomes and, in some cases, saved lives, according to BGI.