Health-tech genomics and AI start-up, 54gene, has secured $4.5 million seed during a fundraising from local and international private equity firms. The company has been conducting diagnosis and medical treatment for people in Africa.
54gene raised the $4.5 million in a seed round which had about five venture capitals as participants. In a statement seen by Nairametrics, Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC and Techammer, among others contributed to the funding.
The fund was raised to build the world-first biobank for African DNA. As of 2018, only 2% of the data used in Genome-wide Association Studies [GWAS] was of African ancestry. 54gene also wants to install electronic data capture systems in ten leading tertiary hospitals in Nigeria, as well as boost operations across Africa, and expand workforce in the US and Nigeria.
According to the company, the unique data sets will be used exclusively for research, which will proactively address the significant gap the genomics market currently poses for Africa, using African DNA to focus on drug discovery opportunities that will improve access. This will be the largest database of genomic and phenotypic consented data of Africans.
There are plans by 54gene to secure 40,000 biobank samples in 2019. The company said research institutions in Africa, pharmaceutical companies, technology partners and healthcare regulators, would assist its quest in order to enable manufacturing of drugs based on African genes.
Why this matters: It takes 10 to 15 years after production, for innovative drugs to be shipped into Nigeria. This is according to the founder and CEO of 54gene, Abasi Ene-Obong. Local production of these drugs will widen accessibility and due to elimination of importation and duty fees, it could be affordable for purchase.
He added that, “If we understand the genetic profile of diseases that are prevalent amongst Africans, we can deliver population health management strategies to people of African origin all over the world, helping equilibrate medical care for all. Technology will allow us to achieve this, at scale and we plan to reach some impressive and unique milestones in 2019.”
While reacting to the successful fundraising, Ene-Obong said, “The genomic revolution has taken place everywhere except for Africa… What many people don’t realize is how genetically diverse Africa is, and that Africans have married within their tribes for thousands of years, which makes our DNA ideal for studying loss-of-function type mutations that can be replicated into new drugs… This capital infusion allows us to move swiftly.”
Meanwhile, on the essence of 54Gene, the founding Partner of Fifty Years, Seth Bannon, said, “It’s a dirty secret that the world’s genomic datasets are overwhelmingly caucasian. By building datasets that are more inclusive, 54Gene will help democratize molecular medicine while unlocking insights that will lead to better therapeutics for everyone.”
About 54gene: 54gene is a six-month old start-up and a YC alumnus. 54gene partners with pharmaceutical companies to identify new drug targets and develop treatments for diseases, and provides genetic testing and molecular diagnostics services to patients and physicians in Africa. The company aims to equilibrate healthcare for people of African origin, while advancing the quality of medical care worldwide.