WuXi Biologics withdraws from 2024 BIO convention amid worsening geopolitical tensions

Amid a U.S. biosecurity crackdown targeting certain Chinese manufacturers and contract research organizations, production specialist WuXi Biologics has quietly exited what is perhaps the biotech industry’s biggest event of the year.

WuXi Bio “will not have a presence” at the 2024 BIO International Convention in June, a spokesperson at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization has confirmed. A previous Fierce Pharma search of the BIO convention website showed that as of April 11, WuXi Bio was still listed as an exhibitor at the event.

Meanwhile, WuXi Bio’s sister company, CRO giant WuXi AppTec, was absent from the 2024 exhibitor list during Fierce’s April 11 search. The companies were both exhibitors at the 2023 BIO convention, and the two firms consistently had a presence at the event as attendees going as far back as at least 2020, according to a search of previous years’ event rosters.

A WuXi Bio spokesperson confirmed via email that the company has decided not to host an exhibit at the BIO convention this year. The company added that WuXi Bio remains “dedicated to serving our clients and their important projects with the end goal of making a meaningful difference in the lives of patients.”

WuXi Bio’s withdrawal from the BIO convention comes at a point of heightened tension between Chinese biopharma service providers and certain U.S. lawmakers.

Back in January, the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party unveiled the BIOSECURE Act, which aims to prevent so-called “foreign adversary biotechs” from receiving U.S. federal funding for their projects. The bill, if made law, would likely limit the ability of drugmakers participating in Medicare and Medicaid to work with those companies of concern, effectively cutting them out of the U.S. market.

The draft legislation specifically calls out WuXi AppTec as well as Chinese genomics companies BGI Group, MGI and Complete Genomics, and could add more companies to the target list later. According to the bill, the identified companies allegedly pose a risk to U.S. national security by “engaging in joint research with, being supported by, or being affiliated with a foreign adversary’s military, internal security forces, or intelligence agencies.”

WuXi AppTec and WuXi Bio are related companies but operate as distinct entities. While WuXi Bio wasn’t explicitly listed as a company of concern in the text of the BIOSECURE Act, the contract manufacturer has been swept up in the controversy all the same.

Upon the bill’s release, WuXi Bio defended its position, stressing that it was “committed to supporting its customers  globally and to operating with the highest standards of compliance and in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations of all jurisdictions where it has business operations.”

Meanwhile, in February, Reuters reported that a group of bipartisan lawmakers from the House select committee sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, urging sanctions against WuXi AppTec and WuXi Bio as a national security concern.

The lawmakers specifically accused WuXi Bio’s CEO, Chen Zhisheng, of having military ties, through a 2018 resume that lists him as a visiting professor at China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences. WuXi Bio has previously called the characterization of its CEO a “misleading description.”

As for BIO, the trade group in March came out in support of the BIOSECURE Act, with the organization’s CEO, John Crowley, arguing that the U.S. and its allies should not allow “adversaries abroad” to further their goal to become the “biotechnology center of excellence in the world.” BIO made the public endorsement of the bill simultaneously with an announcement that WuXi AppTec had voluntarily ended its membership with the trade group.

A few weeks after BIO made its position known, Crowley penned an opinion piece in Stat claiming “global competitors are now threatening America’s biotechnology dominance.”

“If China becomes the world leader in biotechnology by 2035, as it intends to do, it will control the availability of disease treatment and genetic information,” Crowley warned. “This supremacy would expand its global economic influence while reshaping the global order to its interests.”

Despite BIO’s position on BIOSECURE, multiple other Chinese CROs and CDMOs will maintain a presence at the trade group’s convention in June. All told, 31 Chinese companies are attending the event as exhibitors this year, including biopharma research or manufacturing service providers Altruist Biologics, HkeyBio Tech, Hzymes Biotechnology and Thousand Oaks Biologics, among others. The U.S. branch of the Chinese CDMO giant GenScript will also attend the event, according to BIO’s website.

Editor's Note: Angus Liu contributed to the reporting of this story.