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Dr. Yiwu He, CEO of BGI Groups USA and BGI’s global head of Research and Development, poses with a picture of Mount Rainier. (BGI Photo)

BGI, the Shenzhen, China,-based genomics giant, announced today that it has opened a Seattle office as part of a major expansion in North America.

The company is one of the largest genomic players in the world. It fuels large-scale human, plant, and animal genomics research through partnering with companies and organizations around the globe, offering research collaborations as well as technology transfer and genetic testing services. The company also pursues its own commercial operations.

A BGI spokesperson told GeekWire that the new office currently houses three employees, and focuses primarily on deepening current partnerships with Seattle-area companies and organizations. But the office will grow significantly next year, and in the long-term could eventually include lab space and take on active scientific work, she said.

A new genomics player in town could shake up Seattle’s biotech and health sciences scene, which at the moment is largely focused on cancer research and immunotherapy.

BGI has existing partnerships with Seattle’s University of Washington and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as with Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. Their current partnerships in the Pacific Northwest largely focus on health and agricultural research.

“BGI’s commitment to North America, particularly the Seattle region, recognizes the strong ecosystem of biotechnology and health groups working at the forefront of medicine,” Dr. Yiwu He, CEO of BGI Groups USA and BGI’s global head of Research and Development, said in a press release. “The new office will help us connect those resources with BGI’s international capabilities and scale to accelerate global innovation for human health.”

The company’s ties to the Northwest run deeper than just its partnerships: the company’s co-founder and President, Jian Wang, was a senior research fellow at the University of Washington in the 1990s, and named the company with the same Chinese characters that make up the UW’s name.

Leroy Hood, the famed genomics pioneer and founder of Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology, is also on BGI’s scientific advisory board. And Seattle’s Dr. Tadataka Yamada, previously the president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s global health program and currently a venture partner at Seattle’s Frazier Healthcare Partners, is the chairman of that board.

Leroy Hood
Genetics pioneer Leroy Hood. (Institute for Systems Biology Photo)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray visited BGI’s headquarters in Shenzhen in May, and voiced his support for the company’s new Seattle presence.

“BGI is one of Shenzhen’s most famous companies and is an impressive pioneer in DNA sequencing. Their new division based in Seattle is a welcome addition to our community,” Murray said in a press release.

“Seattle and BGI share a vision for a future where we are all better off thanks to scientific advancements. I am honored BGI loves Seattle as much as we do, and I am grateful they are inspired to work with our community to advance science to improve the human experience.”

BGI was founded in 1999 as the non-profit Beijing Genomics Institute. The company later became for-profit, and moved its headquarters to Shenzhen, the largest industrial city in China. As a result of the move, the company trunkated its name to simply “BGI.”

BGI also has offices in Copenhagen and Hong Kong, as well as an office in Philadelphia.

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