5:33 PM
 | 
Jun 10, 2019
 |  BC Extra  |  Politics & Policy

Senators call for HHS probe into CMS genetic testing payments to Chinese-linked companies

Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have asked the HHS inspector general to investigate payments made by CMS to U.S. genetic testing companies that are partnered with companies that have ties to Beijing.

In a letter to Acting Inspector General Joanne Chiedi, Grassley and Rubio cited a February IG report on national security risks connected to sharing genomic data that identifies China as the primary source of those risks. The lawmakers noted that the report raised concerns that NIH gave access to U.S. genomic data to for-profit companies from China, including WuXi Nextcode Genomics Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) and BGI Group unit BGI Genomics Co. Ltd. (SZSE:300676).

The letter came five days after senators clashed at a Senate Finance Committee over allegations of spying, with Grassley accusing the Chinese government of engaging in large-scale espionage against U.S. taxpayer-funded research (see “Conflicts Over Scale, Response to Foreign Threats and Espionage Against NIH Research”).

Grassley and Rubio said BGI and WuXi have "publicly touted" their partnerships with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to expand genomic analytics, a relationship the lawmakers called "particularly alarming.”

"Huawei is a State-directed Chinese telecommunications company that, according to the heads of six U.S. intelligence agencies including the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the Director of National Intelligence, possesses the capabilities to 'maliciously modify or steal information' and 'to conduct undetected espionage.' This is the same company that the U.S. recently charged with conspiring to defraud our nation and stealing trade secrets, among other crimes," the senators wrote.

The lawmakers asked the IG to review whether CMS has made payments for genetic testing to U.S. entities with partnerships to BGI, WuXi or other companies with Chinese government ties. They also want the IG to determine whether national security risks are considered when deciding whether payments are "permissible to providers with partnerships with these Chinese-affiliated companies." In addition, they ask that the IG offer recommendations on ways to reduce national security risks related to U.S. citizens' genomic data in regards to CMS payments.

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