US Battles With China Over Genetic Dispute
Ed You is one of a kind; and he is also an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He is also at the forefront of a potential dispute between the US and China – two of the biggest future pioneers of biomedical research.
According to Financial Times, the high profile that he adopts is actually part of an unusual FBI campaign which aims to highlight the risks in America’s pursuit to unlock the secrets of the human genome. He warns that the US is not protecting the genomics data used to create new medicines, but which can also be used to develop potentially dangerous bioweapons.
This concern has led him to focus on China, who he believes is gaining access to US genomics data. Although Chinese investors have purchased stakes in US biomedical companies that specialise in genomics, there has also been a suggestion that state-sponsored hackers have penetrated the laboratories, health insurers and hospitals. In order to tackle this, You stresses stricter controls are required on what sort of health data should be transferred overseas.
Since the first human genome was decoded, national security questions have always been raised. The bureau fears that digital data can be lethal, and concerns regarding large volumes of US genetic data being scooped up help explain why a law enforcement agency is tracking the potential loss of US competitive advantage.
Despite some believes that the US government is right to ask questions about the implications of Chinese investment in genomics, others are more sceptical. They believe that it could be damaging for the US to put up barriers to Chinese biomedical investment.
Dan Rosen, founding partner at the Rhodium Group, explained, “I don’t think drawing a line around biotech and calling the entire industry a critical sector is going to do the trick. We’re going to have to maintain the ability to look at investments case by case.”
Whilst research is constantly growing, treatments that are customised for a patient’s individual genetic make-up remain in their early stages. Eleonore Pauwels at the Wilson Centre in Washington, comments, “The first problem is having access to data, you need a lot of data.”
In response to this, a number of countries in Beijing have completed acquisitions to combine their large pools of genetic data.
You continues explain that although most of the Trump administration’s top science jobs are vacant, the FBI’s concerns are “starting to get more traction” inside government. Any suggestions of cross-border deals are filled with concerns of cyber-attacks. Although most public attention to date has centred on identity theft, patient medical records are even more valuable. Some recent hacks involved “actual penetration and acquisition of clinical data,” You added.
It is no secret that advances in gene editing and next-generation DNA sequencing allow scientists to weaponise new viruses. Some experts even warn of bioweapons engineered to kill specific populations or even individuals.