Wednesday 12 December 2018

Up to 600 jobs to be created as Irish gene firm is sold as part of €350m Chinese deal

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Gavin McLoughlin

Gavin McLoughlin

The Government has teamed up with a Chinese company to map Irish people's genetic material in the hope of making medical advances. As part of the initiative as many as 600 people will be recruited by Irish firm Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) over the next five years.

The $400m (€353m) project aims to get 400,000 Irish people to participate, including patients with a range of common and rare diseases.

It is designed to boost medical outcomes, by allowing researchers to identify common genes among people with certain conditions.

In addition, it is meant to allow doctors identify when people have genes that put them at risk of a condition, and then monitor or intervene with those patients earlier.

The project is being led by WuXi NextCode - part of the Chinese WuXi Group. WuXi NextCode is buying Irish firm GMI as part of the deal.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) is investing $70m to back the project, alongside a number of other investors including Chinese private equity firm Yunfeng Capital - co-founded by Alibaba chief Jack Ma.

Investors hope to make a return by, for example, charging health companies a fee to access to the database.

If the company develops a successful drug on foot of the data, the investors may then be able to get a royalty depending on the terms of the deal.

Asked about potential opposition to the project because of a company headquartered in China, WuXi NextCode chief Rob Brainin said: "We're a global company. We operate in Shanghai; Reykjavik; Cambridge, Massachusetts... and now Dublin.

"All of the data related to this initiative is within GMI, which is a subsidiary, it's not mixed and mingled with the rest. We don't consider ourselves owners of the data."

Paul Saunders, head of strategic innovation at ISIF, said the State fund had done "extensive due diligence" on WuXi NextCode.

"We don't enter into any of our investments lightly," he added, saying ISIF would monitor the project closely.

GMI CEO Anne Jones said all the data relating to the project would sit in European servers.

"We do hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards, we will always be extremely compliant, particularly with GDPR," she said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the deal would "ultimately deliver better health and wellness management to people and patients in Ireland and turn the advances we make here into benefits for people around the world.

"GMI's success is a reflection on the wider success of Ireland as a location for the life sciences industry for more than 50 years," Mr Varadkar added.

Irish Independent

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