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BGI Expanding Proteomics Services to Include Mass Spectrometry

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Earlier this month, Adam Bonislawski at GenomeWeb’s Proteomonitor reported that China-based BGI intends to expand its proteomics offerings and buy ~50 new mass spectrometers over the next two years. This diversification into clinical and drug-development services is a forward-thinking move for the genomics/bioinformatics giant and one that should be taken seriously by current proteomics service providers.

Siqi Liu, associate director and head of BGI’s proteomics division said:

Currently we’re offering mostly [proteomics] technology services. We have the machines and the experience and especially we have good teams in bioinformatics, so we do a lot of project [work] in China. But we can’t stay at this stage. We really want to [develop] mass spec techniques to where they can go into the [clinic]. We want to be able to run protein biomarker [assays] with high throughput and high sensitivity on mass spec.

We want to apply mass spec to the clinic, to biomarkers, but this is in the future. I can’t see that in two or three years mass spec will replace ELISA, but in the future [it] at least will be one of the choices.

BGI started providing next-generation sequencing service work back in 2008, rapidly becoming a leader in the space due, in part, to the low cost of its services. It is currently the world’s largest genome center, housing more than 160 next-generation sequencers from Illumina and Life Technologies, and more than 100 Sanger sequencers. According to an institute spokesperson, BGI generates around 5.6 terabytes of data every day.

It all comes down to a matter of scaleability: the institute employs between 3,000 and 4,000 scientists and technicians — the average age of which is 26 — including 1,500 working in bioinformatics. BGI has reduced science to brute mechanization and boasts to have “invented a new model to train” mid-level bioinformaticians.

BGI has two affiliates set up to coordinate partnerships with research institutes and commercial entities in the US and Europe — BGI Americas and BGI Europe.

According to a 2010 report from Monitor Group, a management consulting firm based in Boston, China is “poised to become the global leader in life-science discovery and innovation within the next decade.” There’s a good chance that leadership could include mass spectrometry for clinical biomarker discovery and measurement.