54gene appoints new CEO, plans to raise additional funding

African genomics company, 54gene has appointed Ron Chiarello as its new CEO. Amidst a $100 million valuation slash and job cuts, the company wants to raise additional capital.

54gene appoints new CEO, plans to raise additional funding
Ron Chiarello, 54gene CEO 

Last October, Abasi Ene-Obong, 54gene's co-founder resigned as the chief executive of the African genomics company, for undisclosed reasons. At the time, Teresia Bost, the company's General Counsel replaced Ene-Obong as interim CEO.

Five months later, 54gene has appointed Ron Chiarello as its new CEO, he previously worked as co-CEO alongside Ms Bost earlier this year. "We appreciate the tremendous contributions Teresia has made to the company and are enthused to have strong and experienced leaders helping move the company forward," Jenny Yip, Board Chair of 54gene and Managing Partner at Adjuvant Capital, said.

Aside from Ron, Yip also disclosed that Tobi Oke, Managing Partner of V8 Capital Partners, an African enterprise tech venture capital fund based in Lagos, Nigeria, has been appointed to 54gene’s Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, Temi Awogboro, Founding Partner of Alcent Capital and Co-Founder of Kairos Angels, and MAGIC, venture capital funds investing globally with a portfolio in Africa, will serve as an advisor and Board of Directors observer.

"We have great trust and confidence in the vision and discipline Ron brings to his elevated role and are grateful to add Tobi’s deep investment experience and expertise in Africa to our board," Yip added.

Teresia Bost has also been retained as an advisor at the company.

54gene aims to significantly improve the inclusion of data from African populations in genomics research. Most genomic data used for development research today is from Europe and North America, while less than 3% is from Africa. Increasing access to genomic data from African populations will improve the effectiveness and relevance of products to the health of African people and power therapeutic discoveries benefiting all populations.

The company's 600,000-sample capacity biobank, which already holds 130,000 samples, is the largest commercial biobank in Africa and one of the most diverse in the world. Through its robust partner and clinical network on the continent, 54gene has access to millions of patients to support its mission.

"54gene is solving the issue of racial disparity in genomics data and paving the way for more inclusive healthcare outcomes," Oke says. "With committed investors and partners in Africa and globally, we are solely focused on 54gene’s original mission and building a distinct and unprecedented platform in its diversity and scale."

To date, the company has raised $45 million dollars from leading investors including Adjuvant Capital, V8 Capital, KdT Ventures, and Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund. With these leadership changes, the company says it will explore new strategic partnerships and raise additional capital.

Last year, 54gene valuation was slashed by over $100 million, according to TechCrunch. However, the YC-backed company was listed as one of the accelerator's top companies in 2023, the implies that it is still valued at over $150 million. 

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.

However, amidst the global downturn, 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.

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