An ethical spotlight has been put on China’s genomics industry after the president of the country’s leading genomics company BGI, Wang Jian, revealed its employees were not allowed to have children with birth defects.
The comments came at a big data conference on May 28 where Mr. Wang spoke at a panel discussion with other tech giants. He set out three rules for BGI staff who “must live to at least aged 100”. Rules included that staff can’t have children with birth defects and they are not allowed to have heart bypass surgery. They must rely on genomics if their ticker gave them trouble.
Wang Jian is the co-founded BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute. It was founded in 1999 as a nongovernmental genome-sequencing facility and it took part in the Human Genome Project. The company expanded globally since then as the field developed and grew more popular.
At the panel discussion, Wang explained BGI’s company objective that all employees should live to at least the age of 100 and he plotted out three ethical red-flag rules to achieve this. The first being that BGI staff members are not allowed to have children with birth defects. “If they were born with defects, it would be a disgrace to all 7,000 staff,” he said.
The second rule is that BGI can’t detect cancer later than hospitals, while the third is that employees are not allowed to have heart bypass surgery, but must count on gene tech and clean living to prevent cardiovascular disease. To promote fitness and healthy eating, Wang said, BGI tracks the dining habits of employees at its cafeteria and has put its elevators out of service.
He likes to court controversy, Mr. Wang. Last December he was quoted opposing Chinese women from mainland China going to Hong Kong for HPV vaccines because he believes genetic testing is the better option.
In China, genetic testing is a huge industry that is estimated to be worth $2.8 billion by 2022. Hundreds of startups now offer services from medical checks to ancestry tests.