Chinese state fund invests in gene firm BGI

SYDNEY: The Chinese government has made an investment in BGI Genomics, a listed Chinese company that has supplied millions of COVID-19 tests globally as the gene firm seeks to fund exponential growth driven by the pandemic.

BGI Group, which runs a massive gene databank in China and has DNA sequencing contracts with health firms and universities worldwide, has in the past responded to claims from US security agencies that it is closely linked to the Chinese government by saying it has no Chinese government capital.

BGI Genomics, the company’s subsidiary listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange, raised the equivalent of more than US$300 million in a private placement to investors including China’s biggest state investment vehicle, the State Development and Investment Corp (SDIC), filings to the exchange on Feb 1 show.

SDIC is wholly owned by the Chinese central government, which appoints its board, and has focused on strategic emerging industries – including biotechnology and artificial intelligence – and infrastructure that serve China’s national interest, according to its public statements.

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The Central SOE Poverty Area Industrial Investment Fund, which is managed by SDIC Chuangyi, the wholly owned venture capital subsidiary of SDIC, paid 200 million yuan (US$30.8 million) for 1.4 million shares in BGI Genomics, a spokesman for SDIC Chuangyi told Reuters.

The investment gave SDIC Chuangyi a shareholding of about a third of 1 per cent in BGI Genomics, BGI said.

The aim of the investment was to advance China’s interests in alleviating poverty through improved healthcare and in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Wang Weidong, chairman of the board of SDIC Chuangyi told Reuters in a statement.

“Epidemic prevention and control is also a social benefit,” Wang said.

US security officials have warned American labs against using Chinese tests for COVID-19 because of concern China was seeking to gather foreign genetic data for its own research. BGI has denied that.

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The Central SOE Poverty Area Industrial Investment Fund that invested in BGI has invested in a pharmaceutical distribution company, a supplier of critical lithium battery materials, and restructured China’s biggest railway materials company in recent months.

BGI Genomics filings said the funds raised will be used to ease pressure on working capital, to upgrade storage capacity for genetic data and to build a biological sample bank.

Two large Chinese state-owned securities firms, Huatai Securities and China Merchant Securities, also took stakes in BGI Genomics. Huatai becomes the fifth-largest shareholder in BGI Genomics after the placement.

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BGI Genomics said in a statement to Reuters that its controlling shareholders remained private enterprises and individuals.

“At present, the shareholding ratio of SDIC Chuangyi in BGI Genomics is 0.3332 per cent, which does not play a decisive role in the voting of motions,” BGI Genomics said in the statement.

A shareholder with this ownership “may not be able to appoint a director to participate in the decision-making of BGI Genomics, nor does it have any significant influence over BGI Genomics’ operations, strategies or other matters”, the company said.

BGI founder and chairman Wang Jian holds 0.46 per cent of BGI Genomics directly. Two private companies associated with BGI Group control 45 per cent of BGI Genomics shares.

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