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China science

Who are the investors supporting He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist behind the gene-edited babies?

  • Chinese and international venture capital firms have invested at least 298 million yuan in two of He Jiankui’s biotech start-ups
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 10:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 10:24pm

Dr He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies, has received at least 298 million yuan (US$43 million) in funding for his two biotech start-ups from Chinese and international investors.

Shenzhen Direct Genomics Biotechnology, a Shenzhen-based genome sequencing firm that He chairs and has a 33.2 stake, received 218 million yuan in Series A funding round in April, according to a statement on its website earlier this year.

The funding was led by Shenzhen Cosun Venture Capital Investment Management, a venture capital firm owned by Shenzhen-listed Coship Electronics and Chen Libei, an executive of state-backed Fortune Capital.

Scientists warn of ‘far-reaching effects’ of He Jiankui’s GM babies

Shenzhen Cosun is an investment firm focused on the health care sector. Besides Direct Genomics, it has also made an early-stage investment in K2 Oncology, a Beijing-based start-up focused on patient-derived organoids research, which has the potential to help personalise the treatment for some cancers.

Other investors include Beijing Xiyi Asset Management, which has only one venture capital deal – Direct Genomics – since its inception in 2016 on public record.

Direct Genomics, established in July 2012, was worth 1.5 billion yuan, He, the associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, was cited as saying in a news report posted on the Chinese government’s website in January.

In November 2016, Direct Genomics received an undisclosed amount of funding from three investors – Beijing Tengye Venture Capital, Amer International Group, and Sinotech Genomics, according to tianyancha.com, a Chinese corporate information data provider.

Amer International Group is a Shenzhen-based company mainly dealing in metals and materials. Sinotech Genomics is a start-up based in Shanghai offering clinical and research gene sequencing services.

Calls to Shenzhen Cosun, Beijing Xiyi, Beijing Tengyi, and Amer International Group all went unanswered. The South China Morning Post was still awaiting a reply to its email enquiry from Sinotech Genomics by press time.

What is gene editing? Who’s doing it? And is it right?

Separately, Shenzhen Vienomics Biotech, which He also chairs and controls, received 50 million yuan earlier this month in its Series A funding round, led by Amer International Group and Qianjiang Capital.

The start-up, which offers cancer screening services via genomics testing, also collected 20 million yuan from ASB Ventures (China) in pre-A round in 2017 and 10 million yuan from angel investors in January 2016.

A spokesperson for ASB Ventures (China) told the Post that the controversy surrounding the gene-edited babies would not affect their willingness to make any future investments in Shenzhen Venomics Biotech.

“Mr He Jiankui’s personal research is irrelevant to Shenzhen Vienomics Biotech’s business. ASB Ventures (China)’s investment for medical innovation programmes abides by clear bioethics.”

Besides these two start-ups, He holds stocks in seven companies, including Shenzhen Hanhai Venture Capital Management Partnership, Shenzhen Nanke Biotechnology, Vienomics Biotech Rudong, Zhuhai Hanhai Chuangmeng Technology Management Partnership, and Zhuhai Nanqijundao Technology Partnership.

The scientist also controls 45.5 per cent of Shenzhen Nanke Biotechnology, which has the biggest registered capital of 66.66 million yuan.

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