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Chinese Institute Seeks Foothold in US Bioinformatics, Sequencing Markets

NEW YORK, Feb 13 – China’s Beijing Genome Institute has filed to establish a bioinformatics company in San Mateo, Calif., in an effort to gain access to the growing US genomics market, Matthew Huang, co-director of BGI said Tuesday.

“If you want to set up a collaboration in any US concern, it’s much easier for your customer to talk to you if you have a US office,” Huang said. “The mere fact that you can be in the same time zone is a big plus.”

Although the new company, BGI Informatics USA, does not yet have an office, it has already signed its first deal with PPD Discovery, a provider of contract and consulting drug discovery and development services.

“They have a deal with PPD for bioinformatics consulting and services,” said Huang, who is also director of molecular biology and informatics at PPD. He does not have any direct role in BGI Informatics.

But getting the deal off the ground has been tough. In addition to an office, the company’s employees also need visas in order to begin working in the US. Despite a shortage of bioinformaticists in the US, the US embassy in Beijing has denied visas to several BGI employees, who were already scheduled to have begun working for PPD.

  “Progress has been hampered by the US embassy in Beijing,” said Huang, who is one of the institute’s three US-based directors. The other two are based in China.

The institute, which sequenced a chunk of human chromosome 3 for the international public sequencing project, is also looking to make the most of its 80-plus Amersham Pharmacia Biotech MegaBACE sequencers it amassed in China.

“BGI is also probably going to start another office in San Diego and offer sequencing service,” said Huang. “The idea is if an academic or [company] has a big order that they want to do in a cost effective way, the San Diego office would take the order.”

The institute is still deciding whether to spin-off the San Diego venture as another company or to keep it non-profit.

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