Just a few weeks after a House of Representatives committee approved legislation that would crack down on U.S. companies doing business with certain Chinese biotechs, it appears a shadowy organization has emerged in support of the move.

STAT News reported earlier this week that a dark money group — dubbed “Defend Our DNA” — has launched social media ads that support the Biosecure Act. 

On its website, Defend Our DNA singles out Chinese genomics company BGI Group and claims the biotech is working with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to “harvest the genetic data of millions of people around the world.”

In a video ad placed on its website, the group argues that BGI Group is building the CCP a global DNA database for “military experiments, virus research and bioweapons.” The group implored Congress to stop companies like BGI and defend DNA data now, “before it’s too late.”

The video then notes the ad was “paid for by the Committee for Accountability,” but doesn’t disclose exactly what the committee is. 

Defend Our DNA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biosecure Act battle continues

For context, this is just another development in the highly fraught, drawn fight on Capitol Hill over the future of Chinese biotechs.

The social media ads appeared just a few weeks after the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability voted in favor of passing the Biosecure Act, which would restrict U.S. federal agencies from doing business with China’s BGI Group, Wuxi Biologics, Wuxi AppTec, Complete Genomics and several other biotechs. 

In particular, if enacted, the federal policy would prevent agencies from entering into or renewing contracts with the Chinese biotechs listed.

It would also stop federal agencies from being able to spend money on equipment or services from the biotechs and could impact pharma companies that are linked to Medicare or Medicaid.

This legislative push has been years in the making.

Reuters investigation in 2021 found that BGI Group developed prenatal tests in collaboration with the Chinese military and was using the genetic data collected from around the world to research population traits.

The Biosecure Act currently has bipartisan support in Congress and its proponents argue the issue goes beyond healthcare and is a matter of national security, noting that the policy would aim to protect Americans’ health and genetic data from foreign adversaries.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, (D-Calif.), said in a statement that under law in the People’s Republic of China, any entity owned by or affiliated with Chinese companies “could be compelled by the Chinese government” to provide data on Americans.

“This legislation is an important step to protect American patients, our nation’s biotechnology industry, and our national security from exploitation by hostile foreign entities, and I urge House leaders to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote without delay,” she continued.

Rep. James Comer, (R-KY), also noted in a statement that the bill is “a necessary step towards protecting America’s sensitive healthcare data from the Chinese Communist Party before these companies become more embedded in the U.S. economy.”

However, WuXi Biologics has argued that the legislation is based on false allegations and that it does not pose a national security threat to the U.S.

In a January statement, WuXi Biologics countered some of the language included in the draft bill, particularly that its CEO Dr. Chris Chen previously served as an adjunct professor at the People Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences.

WuXi Biologics stated that this was misleading and that Chen had only served as a one-time guest lecturer in 2013. 

“The company’s understanding is that Dr. Chen had no other engagement with the institution prior to or since then,” the company stated, adding that he had never received compensation from military-associated institutions.

Potential impact on pharma industry

While the bill has attracted mainstream press coverage and considerable debate, some U.S. drugmakers have voiced concerns about the increased scrutiny on Chinese businesses in Congress. 

Sound Pharmaceuticals CEO Jonathan Kil told The New York Times that passage of the Biosecurity Act could threaten smaller pharma companies that rely on government funding.

“What I don’t want to see is that we get very anti-Chinese to the point where we’re not thinking correctly,” Kil said. 

The same article found that WuXi Biologics was involved in the manufacturing and production of countless U.S. blockbuster drugs across cancer, cystic fibrosis, obesity and HIV.

Additionally, a BioCentury survey released in March found that 90% of biotech leaders said they would expect U.S. pipeline delays if the Biosecure Act passes. The report indicated that the law would “deal a massive blow to biotech companies” that use Wuxi Biologics and other Chinese companies as contractors.

Looking ahead, the Biosecure Act still has to pass through the House and Senate before it could be signed into law by President Biden.