Two months after laying off 95 employees—or about 30% of its LinkedIn-sourced 290+ employees—Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, 54gene's co-founder and CEO has resigned—he will be replaced by Teresia Bost, the company's General Counsel—for undiclosed reasons.
However, he has previously been accused of financial misconduct, these allegations are unproven as of the time of this report. Dr. Ene-Obong will continue to support the company in the role of Senior Advisor and retain his position on the 54gene Board of Directors.
Aside from the aforementioned allegation, 54gene has been impacted by the economic downturn as well as the low patronage of its COVID-19 testing product that thrived during the pandemic in 2020.
"Like so many others navigating this current market situation, we are not immune to having to make adjustments to headcount and our financials, in order to remain competitive within the market," the company's spokesperson said in August 2022.
In this context, Dr. Ene-Obong resignation might be likened to the 2020 incidence at Thrive Agric where its CEO, Uka Eje stepped down for an interim CEO, Adia Sowho following the companies inability to meet up with its financial obligations to investors.
Who is Teresia Bost?
"Whilst we continue to work closely with Abasi, as he takes on a new role as Senior Advisor, we're also excited to have Teresia Bost, in her role as Interim CEO, lead the company into its next phase," Jenny Yip, Managing Partner of Adjuvant Capital and 54gene Board Chair, said.
Ms Bost joined the company in 2021 as a General Counselor. Before joining 54gene, Bost was the Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Corporate and Securities at Jazz Pharmaceuticals. She also worked at New Jersey-based Celgene for 14 years in roles of increasing responsibility, concluding as Senior Corporate Counsel and Executive Director.
Bost holds a Master of Laws (LLM) in European Business Law from the University of Amsterdam, a Juris Doctor (Doctor of Law) from Touro University Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English with a concentration in French (cum laude) from Fisk University in Nashville, TN. She is also Certified in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in HR through Cornell.
54gene's post-COVID-19 woes
Founded in 2019, 54gene is addressing the gap in the global genomics market where less than 3% of genetic material used in pharmaceutical research is African.
Since its launch, the Nigerian healthtech company has received backing from the likes of Y Combinator, Adjuvant Capital and Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund (CAIF) and several investors who have invested $45 million in the company, including a $25 million Series B last September; a large chunk of the company's investment goes into its biobank (which now has a capacity of over 300,000 samples) and lab testing centres.
Despite its recent funding, the company laid off over 95 employees in August 2022—mostly contract staff (in labs and sales departments) recruited to work in 54gene's COVID business line launched in 2020 to complement its flagship product: a biobank of the African genome.
In 2020, 54gene saw an opportunity to make additional revenue during the pandemic as it turned its lab capabilities and re-positioned itself to conduct COVID-19 testing, which spiked in Africa when the company closed its Series A round. It was a big part of the company's operation; at some point, 54gene was one of Nigeria’s largest providers of COVID testing.
Editor's Note: This is a developing story, it will be updated with more details.