BGI and Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, part of Sinai Health System, Awarded Investment from Genome Canada and Ontario

GenomicsShenzhen, China and Toronto, Canada, November 30, 2017 ‒ BGI and the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, part of Sinai Health System, today announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining their intention to collaborate on the development a genomics-based diagnostic test for the early identification of women at risk for pre-term birth and other pregnancy complications. The non-invasive test will be based on genomic information from easy to obtain blood samples.

Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age. Of the 200 million women worldwide who become pregnant annually, 15 million will deliver preterm, and this number is rising. Each year, 1 million preterm babies die and millions more will experience serious, life-long medical and developmental disorders as a result. In Canada alone, the annual costs associated with preterm births are estimated to be $600 million.

BGI, one of the largest genomic organizations in the world, is committed to reducing the rate of major disease by offering accurate and affordable genetic tests and molecular diagnostics services. Dr. Stephen Lye, Senior Investigator at the Toronto-based Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute and research lead on this project, has identified gene expression signatures in maternal white blood cells that can predict which women who experience too-early symptoms of labour, will go on to experience preterm birth of their infants.

The first phase of this international partnership was recently awarded a $4.6 CAD million Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) investment from Genome Canada and Ontario Genomics. It will focus on enhancing the diagnostic potential of these gene expression signatures with the goal of developing a simple genomic test to identify women in threatened preterm labour who will deliver preterm. Approximately 2 million women are hospitalized annually in North America for Threatened Pre-Term Labour. However, less than 20% of these women will deliver preterm, exposing 80% to unnecessary interventions and hospitalization. The second phase of this collaboration will focus on developing a screening test early in pregnancy to identify women at risk of a preterm birth with the potential of saving the Canadian healthcare system $200 CAD million per year, and of reducing the burden on neonatal ICUs.

BGI intends to continue its research collaboration with the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute and expand its R&D and business activities in Canada, which will generate downstream investment and create jobs for highly qualified personnel. As part of the collaboration, BGI will provide its BGISEQ-500Ô next generation sequencing system and will eventually expand the sequencing capacity with its newly introduced MGISEQ-2000Ô sequencing system. This will accommodate future joint research and Laboratory Developed Test (LDT) projects.


“This collaboration promises to be a major step forward for the health of women and children worldwide. Agreements like this one show how much we can accomplish when we connect Ontario’s innovative researchers with leading global partners through international business missions to share ideas that can make a real impact in people’s lives,” said Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario.

We are pleased to support this international collaboration that will deliver multiple benefits for Canada, China and beyond – chief among them, helping to improve maternal and newborn health worldwide through a simple genomic test,”  said Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada.

“Through this collaborative investment, we are enabling the development of diagnostics that will have a positive global impact on the personal, social and economic burden associated with preterm births,” said Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO, Ontario Genomics.

Ning Li, Chief Development Officer at BGI said in a statement that “The results from the joint venture with Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute will produce an important addition to our existing reproductive testing portfolio and contribute to the reduction of birth defects, improvement in maternal health in Canada, China and around the world”.

“This investment has the potential to transform prenatal care for women at risk of pre-term birth. I am very grateful for this investment, and for this important collaboration with partners who are equally committed to providing exceptional care for this patient population,” says Dr. Stephen Lye, Senior Investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.

About Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute

The Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, part of Sinai Health System, is a leading biomedical research centre, ranking amongst the top biomedical research institutes in the world. Established in 1985, the institute is profoundly advancing understanding of human biology in health and disease. Many of the breakthroughs that began as fundamental research have resulted in new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat prevalent conditions. The institute is affiliated with the University of Toronto and is focused on women’s and infants’ health, cancer biology, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, neurobiology, diabetes, arthritis, health systems research, population health services and solutions, and systems biology.

About BGI

BGI Group was established in 1999 with participation in the original Human Genome Project. Since then, BGI Group has grown in to one of the world’s largest genomics organizations, experienced in genomic research, commercial NGS services and sequencer manufacturing. One of the company objectives is reducing the rate of birth defects and maternal health by offering accurate and affordable genetic tests.

About Genome Canada

Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization that aims to harness the transformative power of genomics for the benefit of all Canadians. We connect ideas and people across public and private sectors to find new uses for genomics, invest in large-scale science and technology to fuel innovation, and translate discoveries into solutions across key sectors of national importance, including health, agriculture, forestry, fisheries & aquaculture, energy, mining, and the environment.

About Ontario Genomics

Ontario Genomics is a not-for-profit organization funded by the Ontario government and the federal research funding agency, Genome Canada. Established in 2000, it is the only entity focused solely on stimulating, enabling and nurturing genomics innovation in the province of Ontario across all sectors of the bio-economy.  Ontario Genomics connects ideas, people and organizations to invest in genomics-based solutions aimed at improving quality of life and driving economic growth.

For further information: Donna Takacs, Communications, Ontario Genomics, 416-275-4180;  Sally Szuster, Senior Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Sinai Health System, 416-586-4800 x 8713.