From The Editor | May 13, 2024

Exclusive Interview: WuXi AppTec Responds To BIOSECURE Act


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

Rick Connell
Rick Connell

At a point during my exclusive interview with Rick Connell, he breaks out into this pledge:

I’m WuXi AppTec’s President for the US and Europe, running a global organization under the guiding principle of ‘Doing the right thing and doing it right.’ I can confidently state no government has asked our organization for or received any customer’s IP. No regulatory agency has asked us to ‘transfer’ data. No customer has accused us of providing IP to the Chinese government.”

Connell knows WuXi AppTec inside and out. The relationship started when he was at Pfizer in 2004.

He agreed to sit down with me to present a line-by-line refutation of the charges in proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress. We’ll get to that subsequently.

First, to understand Rick Connell is to understand the shock at WuXi AppTec – and  among its customers – over the unsubstantiated allegations seemingly misplaced in the BIOSECURE Act.

Pfizer First

Connell left Pfizer for what he thought was semi-retirement in April of 2018, as VP of External Research Solutions. By then, he knew as much about WuXi AppTec as any professional outsourcing to the service provider.

“I got to know them in 2004, when Pfizer was looking to grow chemistry capacity,” Connell says from his office in Boston, Mass. “I had an operations role responsible for a multimillion-dollar strategy for our sourcing.”

In 2008, as VP External Research Solutions, he managed all preclinical outsourcing and suppliers. During 14 years in that position, he also had a one-year assignment in Shanghai to build out a Pfizer research operation.

“What stood out to me then – and now – is in every conference room at WuXi AppTec there’s a big poster that says, ‘Doing the right thing, and doing it right.’ 

“You can say that’s just a slogan. But I say in the 14 years I managed the collaboration for Pfizer, and now as a senior leader inside WuXi AppTec, those virtues the founder himself expoused are meticulously followed at the company.

“And they will guide us through this as well.”  

Retirement Later

In 2018, when Connell informed Dr. Ge Li, a Chinese American entrepreneur and founder of WuXi AppTec, that he was retiring from Pfizer, Li responded he had appreciated how Connell intergrated Pfizer’s global suppliers into a single interface. Li was interested in hiring Connell to do something similar.

“I've witnessed what you can do within the complexity of outsourcing, IP security, and other aspects of an organization with global partners,” Connell recalls Li as saying.

Li, says Connell, was always thinking about the protection of client knowhow.  

“Other companies – some offshore – also offered some exploratory talks,” Connell adds, “but based on my experience with numerous suppliers, I knew there's an unevenness to quality, and the infrastructure and steps taken around IP protection.”

“WuXi AppTec was far and away the leader in the space.”

Connell took the job.


During the process around the FY2024 House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), WuXi AppTec was shocked to see it was mentioned, even though the bill was aimed at a company called BGI and its subsidiaries.

BGI had already been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, Defense, and Commerce departments, and it was clearly the target.

“Yet,” says Cornell, “further into the document you suddenly read this line saying the DOD should audit WuXi AppTec.”

“We're reading the context of the bill, and it’s all about human genome sequencing data. We genuinely did not understand why we were inserted into the bill.”

When the FY2024 NDAA bill was finalized in a House-Senate conference, “very reasonably and pragmatic,” says Connell, the names of specific companies were removed, and instead the bill stipulated the DOD should audit any Chinese biotech company that could somehow be a threat to national security.

“We thought that was a good outcome. We support national security as much as anyone else, and we are open to being audited,” recalls Connell.

However, come January 2024, a new House bill was introduced that reversed course.   

“Now, incredibly, with no mention of audits or due process, WuXi AppTec is simply listed as  a national security threat,” Connell says describing that draft of the BIOSECURE Act being considered in Congress.

“Given my background with WuXi AppTec as a customer at Pfizer, and understanding operations as a leader within the company, this is quite upsetting. And now there are other unfounded accusations being floated around.”

Shadow Boxing

WuXi AppTec has done its best to enter into dialogue with the authors of the BIOSECURE Act.

For example, the company quickly reached out to the office of then Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher, but to no avail. Gallagher had spearheaded this legislation. (Gallagher left Congress on April 19th).

Gallagher had referred WuXi AppTec to Treasury, DoD and Commerce to sugget they audit the company, “so we sent them letters to say we absolutely welcome any audits,” says Connell.

“Last year, we had some 700 customer audits. We had close to 60 regulatory audits – FDA, EMA, and so on. In 2020 we even went through an audit with The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).”

Despite all this, the new bill passed through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, with no recourse to any audits and no due process for WuXi AppTec.

“We are left shadow boxing accusations that are not supported,” says Connell.

“And we will shadow box if that’s what it takes to fight this.

“As we sit here today, I can't be more clear I don't know what they are talking about in the legislation.

“It's easy to throw words around. They say this is a matter of national security. We fully support national security – there are bad players in the marketplace that the U.S. government should go after.

“We are not among them.”

The question readers should consider: Is the U.S. government doing the right thing, and doing it right?


Next Up: Connell will present a line-by-line refutation of the charges in the BIOSECURE Act.

Earlier editorials from Chief Editor Louis Garguilo:

Is WuXi AppTec An Enemy Of The State?
BIO Expels WuXi, Agrees With U.S. Government
From Ally To Adversary: BIO's Swift Rebuke Of WuXi
BIOSECURE Act: Too Little, All Wrong On WuXi
Nothing To See Here! Just Massive Big Pharma Investments In China
Exclusive Interview: WuXi AppTec’s Rick Connell Responds To BIOSCURE Act