Zhang Guocheng, Deputy General Manager of BGI Genomics
In the realm of life sciences and genetics, individuals often find themselves on unique journeys that intersect with significant advancements shaping the fields of science and medicine.
Zhang Guocheng embarked on a career that took himself into the world of science and genomics and eventually led him to the BGI Group, as a Deputy General Manager of BGI Genomics at present.
By exploring his story, we discover a narrative of dedication, innovation, and a deep commitment to the belief that genomics technology can have a significant impact on improving people’s lives.
Question: How did you become involved with life sciences?
Zhang Guocheng: I graduated from Medical School of Lanzhou University with my Preventive Medicine degree rewarded in 1989. After graduation, I was assigned to work at a hospital in Lanzhou first and then pursued my depth studies at the No. 3 Hospital of Peking University. Since then, I have been working in medical-related fields, including medical equipment and pharmaceutical sales. In 2001, I joined BGI where I was more involved with life science and genomics.
Question: What was the scale of life sciences companies back then?
Zhang Guocheng: At that time, companies’ scale with the business scope in life sciences were in small or medium size. In 2003, after the SARS outbreak , the gene sequencing technology helped us discover the sequence of SARS and confirmed the infection was caused by a coronavirus. Immediately, BGI developed the first SARS virus diagnostic test kit.
After the test kit was developed, there were a constant stream of inquiries and we saw the tremendous demands for this kit in the market. However, Mr. Wang Jian [Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of BGI Group] called us for a meeting and said that China was going through a difficult period, and we can do our contributions and should not make any profit from it. Immediately, BGI donated 300,000 kits for SARS diagnostic test as a charity to the society.
Question: 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the completion of the human genome project. What changes have occurred at BGI in the past 20 years?
Zhang Guocheng: The Human Genome Project was essentially fundamental research, and BGI had a great opportunity to participate in this project. Over the past 20 years, BGI made numerous breakthroughs in basic research and technologies in this respect. Consequently, BGI’s achievements helped us play an important role in the global sequencing industry.
Question: How do we understand “using genomics technology to benefit mankind”?
Zhang Guocheng: Initially, genomics technology was primarily adapted in scientific research, with BGI providing gene sequencing services, and experts from various fields using this technology to find applications. It was a process of "exploring this technology applications".
After we moved to Shenzhen, we gradually began applying genetic technology in areas including health care. It helps accuracy and efficiency for the medical diagnosis and treatment of diseases and truly benefited humanity, improving quality of people’s life.