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VC Sheriff Meeting with FBI over ‘concerns’ with Ventura County’s $60 Million Partnership with Chinese Government-related Covid-testing Firm

Ventura County contracted with Fulgent Genetics in January 2021 for $60 million to provide Covid testing services in the county. Now, Fulgent’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party are under scrutiny by the Ventura County and Los Angeles County sheriffs.

“We’re aware of the information that came out on that from L.A. We are looking into that information ourselves, taking it very seriously,” Capt. Cameron Henderson, public information officer for the VC Sheriff’s office, told the Conejo Guardian. “Our sheriff is meeting directly with the FBI this week, actually, to hear exactly what they have to say and what the concerns are.”

The County confirmed that Fulgent is still conducting tests for local residents, in spite of concerns that its test results are available to the Chinese government.

“The County of Ventura utilizes a number of labs for processing employee tests.

Fulgent is uniquely well-positioned to develop and offer a Next Generation Sequencing based test for COVID-19 given the company’s presence on the ground in China through its joint venture, which has provided access to real positive controls and unique data insights from patients in China.

Fulgent is one of them,” Ashley Bautista, public information officer for the County CEO, wrote in response to a Guardian inquiry. “The contract with Fulgent prohibits the disclosure of personal health information without the County’s written permission.”

In November 2021, Los Angeles County Sheriff, Alex Villanueva, sent a letter to county supervisors saying his agency would no longer participate with Fulgent because the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator informed him of “serious risks associated with allowing Fulgent to conduct COVID-19 testing.”

In his letter Villanueva wrote, “I was shocked to learn Fulgent had strong ties with GBI, WuXi, and Huawei Technology, all of which are linked to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) State Council and are under the control of the PRC. I was even more shocked to learn Fulgent made no attempt to disguise the fact they will use the genetic information obtained in future studies.”

The Ventura County Star reported one year ago in December 2020 that “[Ventura] county has added a new laboratory partner as part of the plan to strengthen the supply chain. The new partner, Fulgent Genetics, is providing supplies for the Camarillo site”.

Villanueva’s letter continued, “On the Fulgent public website, the following statement can easily be found, ‘I also give permission for my specimen and clinical information to be used in de-identified studies at Fulgent and for publication, if appropriate.’ Additionally, the 2017 China Cyber-Security Law makes it legal for PRC to seize any data stored within China, or stored outside of China by an entity which has a presence in China, and that organizations and network operators submit to government-conducted security checks.”

Fulgent announced in a March 17, 2020, press release that they were “uniquely well-positioned to develop and offer a Next Generation Sequencing based test for COVID-19 given the company’s presence on the ground in China through its joint venture, which has provided access to real positive controls and unique data insights from patients in China.”

The statement continued: “Fulgent Genetics’ joint venture in China, which was established in 2016, recently executed a research agreement for COVID-19 with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH), both for diagnostic and mutation analysis of the virus. Fulgent Genetics, through its China JV and with strong cooperation with PUMCH, began collecting patient samples beginning January of 2020 from the most affected regions of China for research, development, analysis, testing, and validation.”

Ming Hsieh, Fulgent Chairman of the Board of Directors, President and Chief Executive Officer

Fulgent was founded in 2011 by Ming Hsieh, who previously founded Cogent, a biometric identification services and products company. The University of Southern California alum (B.S. ’83, M.S. ’84) was born and raised in China. According to a recent Forbes profile, Hsieh has donated $85 million to USC since 2006. He endowed the USC Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering in 2006 and provided another gift in 2010 for the Ming Hsieh Institute for Research on Engineering-Medicine for Cancer.

Fulgent Genetics announced it acquired a majority stake in FF Gene Biotech in May 2021.

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center released a fact-sheet on October 22, 2021, that warned, “The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a goal of achieving leadership in various emerging technology fields by 2030. The PRC ranks as the primary strategic competitor to the United States because it has a well-re-sourced and comprehensive strategy to acquire and use technology to advance its national goals, including technology transfers and intelligence gathering through its Military-Civil Fusion Policy and a National Intelligence Law requiring all Chinese entities to share technology and information with the PRC military, intelligence, and security services.”

Fulgent’s Privacy Policy, updated on its website November 30, 2021, states,

“We may collect, process, and generate individually identifiable personal information of patients, including the following categories either directly or through third parties (for example health care providers):

  • Personal details (including first and middle name, last name, birth date and/or age)
  • Family relationships (if applicable)
  • Address and other contact information
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Nationality
  • Disease
  • Symptoms and other medical information
  • Information on patient’s insurance (where provided)
  • Payment information for services (where provided)
  • Identifiable genetic information; and
  • Genetic test results and findings”

It also states “We have implemented reasonable technical, administrative and physical measures to protect information contained in our system against misuse, loss or alteration and to safeguard your personal information. Information that you provide through our Websites is encrypted using industry-standard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology, with the exception of information you send via email. Your information is processed and stored on controlled servers with restricted access, and in compliance with the Security Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1966 (HIPAA). Unfortunately, no method of electronic transmission is 100% secure, so we cannot ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to our Websites, and you do so at your own risk.”

As of Friday, December 10, 2021, Fulgent’s website contains a link for testing in Ventura County. It states, “Testing is currently available on an as-needed basis for all Ventura County residents.”

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