BGI acquires genome firm in California

Updated: 2013-03-20 10:56

By Michael Barris in New York (China Daily)

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The closing of its deal for California-based Complete Genomics Inc strengthens efforts by BGI-Shenzhen, which operates genome-sequencing centers in China, to grow in the US market for medical and research DNA testing while boosting Chinese hopes of becoming a major industry player, observers say.

BGI-Shenzhen, based in the southern Chinese city in its name, said on Monday that it had completed its $117.6 million tender offer for Complete Genomics, which provides technology used in sequencing the human genome. The genome contains instructions for how DNA is coded in every cell of the human body.

Trumpeting biotechnology as a route to solving social problems, spurring economic growth and building innovation platforms, China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) identifies the sector as one of seven strategic focus areas.

Over that period, the State Council, the central government's highest administrative body, expects the industry to achieve more than 20 percent annual growth, generating 1 million jobs. That would coincide with an estimated 2 trillion yuan ($321.8 billion) in government spending to enhance environmental protection, nutrition, health care, disease prevention, and food and drug safety.

Globally, the genomics market is expected to reach $100 billion in the next decade, Forbes magazine reported.

"BGI's purchase of Complete Genomics fits nicely with China's desire to grow biotechnology," Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News said in an analysis of the transaction this week.

As agreed, BGI-Shenzhen paid $3.15 in cash for each Complete Genomics share, an 18 percent premium to the stock's $2.67-a-share closing price on Sept 14, shortly before the deal was announced.

BGI-Shenzhen is continuing to operate Complete Genomics, whose technology can sequence human DNA for research, as a wholly owned subsidiary, allowing the Chinese company to offer "a broad array of genomic research technology across a variety of platforms", it said.

Clifford Reid, a co-founder of Complete Genomics, will remain CEO of the Mountain View, California, company.

BGI-Shenzhen CEO Wang Jun said in a statement that his company's genome-research efforts would benefit from Complete Genomics' "complete and accurate whole human genome sequencing technology."

Genome sequencing, Reid said in the same statement, can "revolutionize clinical medicine." By the end of this decade, people around the world will "routinely receive medical advice and treatment based on their own unique genetic makeup", he said.

For Complete Genomics, which went public in November 2010 but failed to turn a profit, the deal is reinvigorating. In June, the company announced it had hired a financial adviser to explore strategic options, including a possible sale, and said it would slash 55 jobs, about 20 percent of its work force.

The acquisition also continues a surge in Chinese investment in the US that reached a record $6.5 billion in 2012.

That BGI-Shenzhen prevailed in its takeover bid was all the more noteworthy because it was made despite a competing offer for Complete Genomics by Illumina Inc, a San Diego company that is BGI-Shenzhen's major supplier of sequencing machines.

Doug Schenkel, an analyst with Cowen & Co in Boston, suggested in September that Illumina's higher bid of $123.5 million was aimed at blocking BGI-Shenzhen's pending purchase of Complete Genomics. The Chinese company, he said, was interested in reducing its dependence on Illumina.

Complete Genomics ultimately rejected Illumina's offer, saying it doubted the proposed deal would win approval from US regulators.

By acquiring Complete Genomics' technology, which was found in studies to be both effective and practical, BGI-Shenzhen gains "a little leverage over other vendors," Bloomberg News quoted Schenkel as saying. "It gives them more of a presence in the services industry and gives them more access to this technology and makes it more of an in-house technology."

Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News noted that BGI-Shenzhen has expanded its US footprint in recent years, including a collaboration with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on research into next-generation sequencing and analysis of pediatric brain tumors.