Two Republican senators are asking whether the Department of Health and Human Services might have compromised national security by indirectly doing business with genomics companies tied to China, the latest escalation in Washington’s efforts to limit overseas access to American intellectual property.
In a letter to the HHS inspector general, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) name-checked WuXi Nextcode and BGI, two Chinese-founded genomics companies that have relationships with U.S. companies that have received payments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Grassley and Rubio want to know whether any of those funds went to WuXi and BGI, which they call “entities connected to the Chinese government,” and whether the two firms have access to Americans’ genomic data.
In a statement, BGI said its work in the U.S. abides by all local laws and contractual agreements with its customers. WuXi said in a statement that it does business around the world from its headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., and that the majority of its executives and board members are U.S. citizens. The company also said it keeps separate its U.S. and Chinese genomic data.
Of particular concern to Grassley and Rubio is the fact that WuXi and BGI have in the past done business with Huawei Technologies, a Chinese tech giant that U.S. officials have charged with conspiring to steal American intellectual property. The company has denied those allegations.
Grassley’s interest is notable because as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, he has sweeping power to investigate the health and biotech industries, especially when it comes to contracts those companies have with the federal government. In recent months, Grassley has investigated the federal government’s oversight of nursing homes, clinical trials involving stem cells, and industry funding of a hotly contested NIH study on alcohol use.
In April, the Trump administration ordered PatientsLikeMe, a U.S. health tech startup, to ditch its largest investor over concerns that its China-based majority owner would get access to American health data. Weeks before, NBC News reported that the administration was investigating the dating app Grindr in light of its acquisition by a Chinese gaming company, concerned about the security of user data.
The Trump administration’s crackdown on Chinese investments in U.S. companies comes amid escalating trade tensions between the two nations. The U.S. has repeatedly imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, while Beijing has responded in kind and maintained that it is unafraid of a trade war.