Huge Chinese genomics firm starts up in Addis

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The Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute (EBTi), Ethiopian Academy of Sciences (EAS) and Beijing Genomics Institute Group (BGI), a genome sequencing company or DNA sequence, signed a tripartite letter of intent for the Chinese company to establish an African branch in Addis Ababa.
China Shenzhen is the world’s biggest genomics firm. BGI is going to open its Africa base in Ethiopia.
Even though the company is relatively new and was formed 20 years ago, the Shenzhen based company is the biggest global genomics enterprise.
It was popular before but now it is the best institute in relation to genomic sector that samples from every corner of the world send to the company for sequencing and analyzing the sequence, according to Kassahun Tesfaye, Director General of EBTi.
He said that they have best technological and bioinformatics knowledge capacity than anywhere. “in every sequencing project in the world BGI is there,” he added.
“As Ethiopia is partnering with them it is a good move since we have targets to expand the bio technology sector,” the EBTi head said.
The tripartite agreement focuses on BGI intent to establish BGI-Africa (African genomic institute as a branch of BGI) in Addis Ababa, EBTi will play a facilitation role in the establishment of BGI Africa in Addis Ababa and formation of mutually beneficial cooperative projects between Ethiopian institutions and BGI.
Based on the agreement the EAS role is facilitating of training for young researchers in genomic and bioinformatics skills at BGI through a comparative process.
In February 2018 the Ethiopian institute and the company signed a memo that is now upgraded with the latest intent. This agreement included the Ethiopia side to provide some sort of space, while the Chinese firm will send equipment to the lab that will be under the control of the institute.
On the first scale the lab will be service provider than market oriented. “Our main vision is establishing BGI Africa Genomic Institute in Ethiopia but at this phase in our lab forming BGI’s small lab and giving sequence facility that gradually will be changed to the continental center,” the bio expert told Capital.
He said that recently they have opened facility in South Africa that Ethiopia want to follow the same modality.
“The major thing is owning the sequencing database here. At the current stage sequencing is being undertaken in other places that means the data is deposited at the sequence center that shall raise the ownership claim,” Kassahun said.
“In the future genetic information has become money so owning the sequence and data indicates that we shall gain from it and enable to establish a bank here. If Ethiopian materials that can be animal, human, plant or bacteria are sequenced here then we shall have ownership on the data,” he clarified.
At the current level the country may get the sequence but the data deposited at the genomic centers out of the country.
Regarding pre-health conditions the Chinese firm is engaged on several tests that will be commenced here when the lab is formed. It is also good for the agriculture sector, according to Kassahun.
“Prenatal screening, hereditary cancer screening, testing for rare diseases and in aiding precision medicine research and shall be tested in the Ethiopian lab,” he said.
“Ethiopian’s bio diversity on microbial, plants and animals is very rich but we don’t use it properly because of capacity,” he says. “Capacity means is the laboratory infrastructure when we have it we can sequence and we look up how to use the resources and claim the ownership of the data.”
The lab shall be realized in the current budget year and they will provide support in kind, while Ethiopian technicians will train at their facility and will manage the lab.
According to the agreement the lab technicians will be Ethiopian and the operational cost will be cover by the Ethiopian side.
“Using Ethiopian technicians shall also boost human capital in the sector, which is a good advantage to expand the genomic sector,” he said.
BGI Genomics is a publicly listed commercial genomics company, providing a wide range of next generation sequencing services and a broad portfolio of genetic tests for medical institutions, research institutions and other public and private partners.
Established in 1999 is providing genomics expertise in order to advance life science research and improve human health for the benefit of mankind.
Numerous scientific partners, healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies rely on the world leading bio-informatics research and development, large scale computing infrastructure for data output and storage, and proprietary sequencing platforms.
Besides different labs in China the company has offices and laboratories in different countries in Asia Pacific region, North America and Europe.