BGI is separating its commercial activities from its research activities, launching BGI Tech and BGI Health as commercial arms that will operate as subsidiaries of BGI and will focus on sequencing services and related products for the research and clinical markets, respectively.
Xun Xu, formerly CEO of BGI Americas and now the deputy director in charge of BGI's research arm, told In Sequence that BGI would maintain a nonprofit organization dedicated to genomics research, while BGI Tech would focus on both sequencing and proteomics services and BGI Health plans to develop sequencing-based diagnostics such as gene panels, and will eventually offer clinical sequencing services.
BGI is currently in the process of launching the two commercial subsidiaries and has not yet determined whether the three groups will all be based at its Shenzhen, China, headquarters or elsewhere, Xu told In Sequence on the sidelines of the BGI-sponsored International Conference on Genomics in the Americas, held in Philadelphia last week.
Xu said that there will likely be separate facilities for the research and commercial enterprises. Sequencing for BGI Health will be done within an accredited environment, he said.
BGI Tech has already released its first product — exome sequencing on DNA from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue from as little as 200 nanograms of DNA.
Xu said BGI Tech also plans to develop and commercialize animal models and agriculture-related products, based on the extensive sequencing data that BGI has gleaned, as well as proteomics and sequencing services.
Yingrui Li, currently director of the department of science and technology and head of bioinformatics at BGI, will lead BGI Tech, Xu said.
BGI Health, meantime, will be led by Wang Wei, previously director of viral genotyping at BGI. That group will focus on developing diagnostics, such as gene panels for genetic disorders and cancer, as well as sequencing-related tests for prenatal health, such as noninvasive trisomy testing.
Xu said there will be a variety of clinical labs that will operate under BGI Health. For instance, BGI's Hong Kong facility plans to develop a certified clinical lab that would operate out of a separate floor within the BGI-Hong Kong branch (CSN 11/30/2012).
Additionally, Xu said that a BGI-operated facility in Shanghai has its own clinical sequencing laboratory.
How BGI's pending acquisition of Complete Genomics (IS 9/18/2012) will fit into the picture is still being worked out, Xu said. He declined to comment further on the acquisition because the deal has not been finalized, but said that BGI wanted to purchase Complete Genomics both for its sequencing technology and also for its focus on high-throughput human genome sequencing for discovery purposes.
While other sequencing companies are becoming more interested in sequencing for clinical diagnostics, and transitioning to targeted sequencing with a higher price per base, Complete's technology is more discovery-driven and thus "higher throughput and cheaper," said Xu.
BGI is currently Illumina's largest customer, operating more than 100 of its systems. And moving forward, Xu said, Illumina will "still be our top platform."
He noted that compared to Complete's machines, Illumina's are "more flexible," enabling not only whole-genome sequencing, but also exome, transcriptome, and methylation sequencing.