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Isolation Worries

China's move to sanction six companies for the improper handling of genetic information from Chinese individuals could portend the increased isolation of Chinese genetic research, writes Adam Minter at Bloomberg Opinion.

China recently announced that it had imposed penalties on a handful of companies, including BGI, WuXi AppTec, and AstraZeneca, for illegally collecting and exporting genetic data outside of China in incidents that occurred in 2015, 2016, and 2018, as the Global Times reported. BGI, for instance, was issued a fine and told to destroy the samples.

Minter argues that this restriction of access to data generated within China echoes what China has done in the technology space, where he says there are now fears of "full-fledged balkanization of the internet." He notes that China is worried that foreigners might exploit Chinese genetic data and that it has begun to regard its genetic resources as a national security matter. Minter says, though, that this approach could jeopardize the notion of open science.

Instead, he says China "should lead the way in developing global rules that similarly protect patients and intellectual property, while encouraging as much sharing and collaboration as possible.

"With its wealth of genomic data — and mounting health problems — it'll gain as much as anyone from more, not less openness," Minter adds.