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BGI Genomics Continues to Grow Clinical Testing Business, Add Partnerships


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – BGI Genomics, the publicly traded clinical genetic testing and research services arm of China's BGI Group, continues to grow its business, in particular in oncology, infectious disease, and reproductive health genetic testing, and has been adding new partnerships.

According to Ning Li, chief development officer of BGI Genomics and VP of the BGI Group, the company's mission is to "provide the best service to our customers to benefit the people and the patients."

BGI Genomics, headquartered in a former shoe factory in the Yantian District just east of the city of Shenzhen in southern China, has more than 3,000 employees worldwide and operates laboratories in China, Hong Kong, Denmark, and the US. In addition, the firm is involved in more than 200 additional laboratories that are operated by partners and supported by BGI's sequencing technology or expertise.

The majority of the firm's business currently comes from the domestic market in China, according to Li. That market continues to grow, and BGI Genomics sometimes collaborates with Chinese genomics and diagnostics startups, many of which he said are founded by former BGI employees.

In addition, the company has established partnerships with international firms, including US-based liquid biopsy company Natera and UK-based human genome analysis and interpretation firm Congenica.

Two years ago, BGI invested an undisclosed amount in Congenica as part of that firm's Series B funding round and signed a contract to use Congenica's Sapientia software. This week, the firms announced the launch of a clinical research exome sequencing and interpretation service, called BGI-Xome, that combines sequencing at one of BGI Genomics' laboratories with interpretation services by certified clinical scientists using Congenica's clinical decision support platform.

Earlier this year, Natera and BGI Genomics signed a $50 million deal to commercialize Natera's circulating tumor DNA minimal residual disease test, Signatera, in China using BGI's sequencing technology and to develop reproductive health tests for certain markets. Li said the partners have been working on the technology and are hoping to be ready to launch their first test next year.

BGI Genomics' business has been expanding over the past year. While no financial results for 2019 are currently available in English, BGI Genomics had RMB 2.54 billion ($370 million) in sales revenues in 2018, a 21 percent increase over the previous year's sales.

Reproductive health, which includes the firm's NIFTY noninvasive prenatal cell-free DNA test as well as carrier screening and newborn screening, remained the biggest revenue contributor last year, with RMB 1.38 billion in sales, a year-over-year growth of 21 percent. As of the end of 2018, BGI Genomics had conducted 4.3 million NIFTY assays globally in total, and it is "the most important test in our clinical testing business," Li said.

As part of its women's health business, the company also provides the SeqHPV human papillomavirus test, a sequencing-based self-sampling cervical cancer screening test that detects 16 HPV strains. As of the end of 2018, the firm had processed 3.6 million samples for that test in total.

For neonatal testing, BGI Genomics also offers a genetic hearing loss test for both syndromic and non-syndromic deafness. According to its website, it has run close to 1.8 million hearing loss tests in total so far.

However, the company saw its fastest growth in oncology last year, where it had RMB 357 million in revenue, a 56 percent increase over 2017. 

Among the oncology tests it provides are sequencing-based tumor analyses to help doctors choose cancer therapies, Li said.

According to the BGI website, the company offers three sequencing-based cancer tests. A test for lung cancer patients called Oseq-T/ctDNA lung cancer panel that was developed on BGI's sequencing platform detects alterations in 11 genes with links to 20 targeted drugs.

Another test, called Oseq drug-targeted panoramic gene monitoring, detects changes in 206 genes that have been associated with 176 targeted drugs and is available for patients with solid tumors.

The Oseq-T/ctDNA cancer personalized gene detection test, which also uses BGI's sequencing platform, analyzes cancer tissue and peripheral blood samples and interrogates 508 cancer-related genes and links to 176 targeted drugs.

Li added that BGI Genomics is also developing cancer companion diagnostic tests and is involved in clinical trials with several unnamed hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. Overall, he said, the company is doing R&D work for 15 to 20 pharmaceutical firms, both in China and abroad.

BGI Genomics also saw steep growth in its infectious disease business last year, a year-over-year increase of 49 percent, with sales that totaled RMB 95 million.

One sequencing-based infectious disease test the company offers, PMSeq, can detect almost 7,000 pathogens, and according to the BGI website, analysis software for the test has been approved by China's regulatory authorities.

Finally, multi-omics, big data, and synthesis services contributed RMB 703 million to BGI Genomics' 2018 revenues, a year-over-year increase of 7 percent.

The company's R&D expenses totaled RMB 265 million in 2018, a 52 percent increase over the previous year, and the firm said it currently has 628 employees in R&D. SG&A expenses were not made available.

BGI Genomics' net income for 2018 was RMB 407.8 million, and net profit attributable to shareholders was RMB 387 million.

Over the years, the composition of BGI Genomics' sequencing fleet, which at one point included 128 Illumina HiSeq sequencers, has changed. The firm said that 90 percent of customer sequencing projects are now run on instrumentation that uses BGI's own DNBseq technology, though other platforms remain available to customers, including sequencing systems from Illumina, Pacific Biosciences, and Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

The DNBseq technology is used in sequencers sold by BGI Genomics' sister company MGI, another commercial unit of the BGI Group, which recently raised $200 million in venture capital funding. Those platforms include the BGISEQ-500, MGISEQ-200, MGISEQ-2000, and the recently launched MGISEQ-T7. Li said BGI Genomics currently does not have the T7 installed in its labs, adding that the firm considers both quality and cost before installing a new platform. "We don't care about where the technology comes from, we just use the best solution to specific technical issues," he said.