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Government investment in DNA-collecting company Genuity Science loses value

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund had invested €66m in the private genetics company acquired in a deal announced yesterday.

Genuity Science have been in the news in recent years due to consent controversies.
Genuity Science have been in the news in recent years due to consent controversies.
Image: Noel Bennett via Alamy Stock Photo

A MULTIMILLION GOVERNMENT investment has lost value in an acquisition deal announced yesterday.

Genuity Science, a company that had a well-publicised goal to collect the DNA of 400,000 Irish people, was acquired by HiberCell, a biotech company based in the United States, in a deal announced yesterday. 

The private genomics company, formerly known as Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI), has been in the national news in recent years due to consent controversiestesty exchanges with the Government and cutting ties with its Chinese operations

Despite campaigning from researchers for a public genome project, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which is managed by Government agency the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), invested millions in Genuity Science.

Genuity Science is the main company involved in DNA sequencing in Ireland and conducts clinical tests as well as research in many Irish hospitals. It is also involved in university research across Ireland and has a major collaboration agreement with UCD, which Noteworthy obtained via freedom of information last year.

A spokesperson told Noteworthy that “ISIF has invested €66m in Genuity Science to date”. This comprised of a €5m investment in 2016, followed by another €61m in 2018. 

Following the acquisition, we asked ISIF how much profit or loss was made by the Irish State in this deal. The spokesperson said that they “do not disclose the value of private investments as this information is commercially sensitive”, but added: 

However, the company’s valuation has been negatively impacted by the global pandemic and its exposure to geopolitical events.

ISIF also confirmed that they are now a shareholder in HiberCell following the all-stock acquisition of Genuity Science. The ISIF spokesperson said: 

“This acquisition represents the best opportunity to maximise value for the company in the future and to maintain its Irish operation.”

Selling our genes 

In a major investigation last yearNoteworthy collaborated with the Business Post and revealed that Genuity Science has at least 25 links to facilities around Ireland. These include funding and collaborations with major hospitals, universities, research facilities and charities.

It also found that hospital clinicians have become “agents of a company” due to the nature of agreements in place, according to experts and researchers are making “the best of the situation” in Ireland by working with the private sector but most would prefer a public system due to data access concerns.

Our Business Post colleagues on the investigation team also revealed the Data Protection Commissioner is engaged in a “widespread compliance and supervision” exercise with Genuity Science following concerns brought to it about consent for research studies.

The entire SELLING OUR GENES investigation can be read here.

Concerns over privacy and access to Genuity Science’s DNA databases of Irish people surfaced once again following the announcement of the acquisition. 

Lack of Government policy and adequate regulation means that private companies have no limit on how long they have exclusive access to the data they collect from Irish patients.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Genuity Science Ireland said it “will continue to operate [its] genomics laboratory and genomics database infrastructure at its facility in Ireland”. They added: 

“There will be no change to Genuity Science (Ireland) Limited’s continued controllership of its genomic research databases.”

Stock acquisition

According to a statement on both the websites of Genuity Science and HiberCell, “the stock acquisition of the Genuity Science business provides HiberCell with approximately $100 million in cash, as well as the existing partnership agreements with Ionis and AbbVie”.

Under the terms of the agreement, Genuity Science and both of its subsidiaries – in Iceland and Ireland – “will become a wholly owned subsidiary of HiberCell”.

This article was supported by reader contributions to Noteworthy, The Journal’s community-led investigative platform. If you like this and our other work, consider contributing here

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Maria Delaney

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