US-China Biotechnology and Artificial Intelligence RaceMercy A. Kuo (THE DIPLOMAT)
Conversation with Eleonore Pauwels – Director of Biology Collectives and Senior Program Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C.
Explain the motivation behind Chinese investment in U.S. genomics and artificial intelligence (AI).
With large public and private investments inland and in the U.S., China plans to become the next AI-Genomics powerhouse, which indicates that these technologies will soon converge in China.
China’s ambition is to lead the global market for precision medicine, which necessitates acquiring strategic technological and human capital in both genomics and AI. And the country excels at this game. There are significant economic incentives behind China’s heavy investment in the increasing convergence of AI and genomics. This golden combination will drive precision medicine to new heights by developing a more sophisticated understanding of how our genomes function, leading to precise, even personalized, cancer therapeutics and preventive diagnostics, such as liquid biopsies. By one estimate, the liquid biopsy market is expected to be worth $40 billion in 2017.
Assess the implications of iCarbonX of Shenzhen’s decision to invest US$100 million in U.S.-company PatientsLikeMe relative to AI and genomic data collection.
iCarbonX is a pioneer in AI software that learns to recognize useful relationships between large amounts of individuals’ biological, medical, behavioral and psychological data. Such a data-ecosystem will deliver insights ＩＮＴＯ how an individual’s genome is mutating over time, and therefore critical information about this individual’s susceptibilities to rare, chronic and mental illnesses. In 2017, iCarbonX invested $100 million in PatientsLikeMe, getting a hold over data from the biggest online network of patients with rare and chronic diseases. If successful, this effort could turn ＩＮＴＯ genetic gold, making iCarbonX one of the wealthiest healthcare companies in China and beyond.
Could biomedical data be used to develop bioweapons? Explain.
Personalized medicine advances mean that personalized bio-attacks are increasingly possible. The combination of AI with biomedical data and genome-editing technologies will help us predict genes most important to particular functions. Such insights will contribute to knowing how a particular disease occurs, how a newly-discovered virus has high transmissibility, but also why certain populations and individuals are more susceptible to it.
Identify three indicators of where Chinese investment in biotech and AI is headed.
As indicated by the recent success of the company Cirina, a new market heavily invested by China is the one of liquid biopsies, blood tests that can detect biomarkers for certain cancers early. Defining these genetic markers at personal and population levels with statistical rigor requires significant Chinese investments in AI technologies to power comparative studies of unprecedented scale.
Another golden investment for China is more precise molecular therapeutics, with the company WuXi NextCODE leading one of the largest genomic data platforms using machine-learning to better diagnose and treat rare diseases and cancers.
Finally, a company like iCarbonX demonstrates China’s interest in leading the personalized medicine market, by using the combination of genomics and AI to provide consumers with preventive genomics and physiological monitoring, increased microbiome insights, as well as lifestyle and diets advices.