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Congress Targets China’s Biotech Ambitions
June 20, 2019
Wall Street Journal
Pentagon funding helped San Francisco startup Twist Bioscience Corp. get off the ground. Then the maker of synthetic DNA got a partner in China, where it now plans to expand manufacturing and set up a subsidiary with the money from its recent initial public offering.
In effect, the Defense Department’s nearly $5 million in funding for Twist served as a small boost to China’s rising biotech industry, which will benefit from the firm’s presence and the manufacturing jobs it creates.
That has prompted Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) to introduce an amendment to Congress’s annual defense policy bill to ensure grant recipients of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency give preference to American manufacturers and to prohibit Darpa from partnering with entities subject to foreign company or government control.
A spokeswoman for Twist said the company follows all U.S. and international regulations and that it is very concerned about protecting its intellectual property. She said Twist keeps all of its advanced technology—including that which was partially funded by Darpa—in the U.S. and that the China facility would only handle less advanced manufacturing.
A Darpa spokesman said its contract with Twist “largely concerned basic or fundamental research” and thus was free from publication restriction, export control and citizenship requirements, which the agency only applies for national security and defense reasons.
Mr. Rubio said that wasn’t sufficient. “The Chinese government and Communist Party has already shown its willingness to steal intellectual property and trade secrets from American companies in its pursuit of supplanting the United States as the world’s economic and military power,” he said Thursday. “The U.S. taxpayer should not be funding this effort.”
Like the Trump administration, Mr. Rubio and other members of Congress are beginning to take an aggressive role to counter the economic and national-security risks posed by China’s rise as a biotech power.
In January, Mr. Rubio and Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), along with Reps. Tim Ryan (D., Ohio) and Mike Conaway (R., Texas), specified biotechnology when introducing their legislation meant to prevent the export of key U.S. technology and intellectual property to China. Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) also highlighted biotech in similar legislation introduced last month.
Read the rest here.