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Illumina's first China facility begins operations

The first China manufacturing site of Illumina, a global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, commenced operations recently.

Located in Shanghai, the facility is aimed at catering to the fast-growing demands for biotech solutions from the world's most populous market.

The new facility, which will receive 500 million yuan ($78 million) in investments over the next three to five years, is the company's third global production center after the United States and Singapore.

"Our new manufacturing site in China signifies Illumina's commitment to the country's life sciences and genetic industry," said Li Qing, senior vice-president and China general manager at Illumina, during a media briefing on Aug 25.

Built with an initial investment of around 50 million yuan, the plant in Shanghai's Minhang district will produce testing reagents, which currently account for two thirds of Illumina's sales in China.

The first batch of testing reagents is expected to be delivered to local customers by the end of this year, according to the company.

In the coming three to five years, the facility will also increase its manufacturing capacity for components and sequencing machines, the company said.

"We see huge potential in the development of the life sciences and genetics industry here in China," Li said. "The new manufacturing capabilities allow us to better cater to domestic demand."

According to Li, genetic sequencing could be the beginning of a revolution for the industry.

He noted that when SARS broke out in 2003, scientists took five months to decode the pathogen as second-generation sequencing had yet to be developed.

But in early January 2020, the genome of the novel coronavirus was sequenced overnight by Chinese scientist Zhang Yongzhen, who used a sequencer made by Illumina.

Over the past two years, sequencing has also been critical to identifying and tracking COVID variants.

The company's products, such as whole-genome sequencers, are used for applications in the life sciences, oncology, reproductive health, agriculture and other emerging segments.

Since Illumina's entry in 2005, China has become the company's second largest market after the United States, accounting for about 10 percent of its $4.5 billion revenue in 2021, according to Li.

He added that the company expects to double its sales in China within three to four years.

For cancer screening alone, the company expects to see an annual growth of 30 to 40 percent in China in the coming years.

Illumina established its China headquarters and a distribution center in Shanghai in 2019.

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