54gene closes $15 million Series A, sets up Scientific Advisory Board

54gene close s $15 million Series A, sets up a Scientific Advisory Board. In less than two years, 54gene has raised $19.5 million.

54gene closes $15 million Series A, sets up Scientific Advisory Board
54gene has announced the close of a $15 million (₦5.8 billion) Series A, bringing the total funding it has received in less than two years to $19.5 million (₦7.5 billion).

The Series A round was led by Adjuvant Capital—a life sciences fund backed by the International Finance Corporation, Novartis, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Other investors that participated in the funding round include Raba Capital, V8 Capital, and Ingressive Capital.

In July 2019, barely six months after it was launched, 54gene raised $4.5 million (₦1.7 billion) in a seed round. Some of the investors that participated in the early-stage funding made follow-on investment in the Series A, namely Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Aera VC and Pioneer Fund.

Speaking on the Series A financing, Jenny Yip, Managing Partner at Adjuvant Capital, said: "We were impressed by 54gene's commitment to building a world-class network of African clinicians and geneticists and are excited to work with them as they scale and seek to drive meaningful improvements in global public health. There is enormous potential in expanding the reach of global drug and vaccine discovery by including more diverse populations in research efforts."

According to 54gene, the fresh $15 million investment received will be used to accelerate discovery capabilities by boosting operations in genetics, bioinformatics, preclinical, clinical and commercial programmes.

Co-located in Lagos and the United States, the first Africa-focused genomics company was founded by Dr Abasi Ene-Obong to understand the world's most genetically diverse population—Africans—and address the lack of African genetic data set.

Currently working with more than 300 researchers, clinicians and geneticists across Africa, 54gene aims to improve the global collective knowledge of genomic determinants of health and to facilitate translational research.

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The African genomics research, services, and development company has also built an African Biobank—a state-of-the-art biorepository which stores biological samples. The Biobank provide access to aggregated, de-identified data and bio-specimen, mainly for secondary use by researchers, to support both academic and development research.

It is also pertinent to note that last month, 54gene launched a $500,0000 (₦194 million) COVID-19 Support Fund to assist the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in the fight against the deadly coronavirus. 54gene donated $150,000 to the Fund and secured additional $350,000 donation from Union Bank.

"In the coming months, we will be focusing on building a genomic resource that we hope will add significantly to global health, while also translating to the health benefits of patients in Africa", Dr Ene-Obong said.

In tandem with the Series A round, 54gene has announced the formation of its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). The members of SAB include global leaders in clinical genetics, bioinformatics and data science, namely:

  • Michael F. Murray MD, Director of Clinical Operations, Center for Genomic Health Professor Dept of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine;
  • Manuel Rivas PhD, Assistant Professor at Stanford University;
  • Greg Hinkle PhD, VP Research Informatics, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals;
  • Jeff Hammerbacher, Founder and General Partner, Related Sciences.

This funding comes at a historically meaningful time. It will allow us to deliver global impact through continued investment in research and strategic partnerships with leaders in the biomedical industry.

We want to support the crucial work of our partners in Africa while improving global health. We are committed to promoting a safe, ethical and beneficial research practice.

—Dr Ene-Obong, founder of 54gene

54gene plans to partner with pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic companies for clinical programmes in Africa, and explore partnerships and opportunities for co-development of drug targets and therapeutics. Kemi Williams—the newly appointed 54gene's Vice President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs—will be leading this partnership effort.

Kemi was formerly the head of clinical affairs for Siemens Healthineers in the United States. She has also worked for Roche, Abbott, and Medtronic.

"We will be expanding our collaborations in Africa with both public and private stakeholders," Dr Ene-Obong said. "We will also be investing in setting up a state-of-the-art research lab with high-throughput genetic processing and biosafety level 3 capabilities in Nigeria."

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