Why African healthtech startup, 54gene's seed raise is important to the rest of the world
In less than six months, 54gene secured an early-stage funding of $4.5 million which signals the potential for massive impact and profitability
In less than six months, 54gene secured an early-stage funding of $4.5 million which signals the potential for massive impact and profitability.
If cancer as a terminal disease is caused by abnormality in cell reproduction, then a significant breakthrough in genomics would hold the cure. Because, genes are found in chromosomes and chromosomes are found inside cells.
Every person’s genetic code is unique. Yet, 90% of the data used in Genome-wide Association Studies (GWAS) was derived from caucasian data. Only 2% was from African ancestry.
It's important to have Africans included in the molecular research data because we are more genetically diverse than all other populations combined.
Last year November, researchers discovered that nearly 300 million letters of DNA, observed in a cohort of 910 Africans, were missing from the world’s most reputable genomic databases. Using just one reference of genome to stand in for all of humanity has introduced subtle biases into genetics research which stymies scientific progress and medical breakthrough.
The paucity of African genetic material for research is what fuels 54gene's drive to build the world's first pan-African biobank, which is a database of genomic and phenotypic data of Africans. The unique data sets will be used to address the significant gap the genomics market currently poses for Africa.
Founded by Abasi Ene-Obong PhD, 54gene is an African-focused healthtech genomics and Artificial Intelligence startup that is leading in the diagnosis and medical treatment of people in Africa.
54gene will learn from America's 13-year-old 23AndMe who has built a genetic database but with a recent focus on Africans and other underrepresented groups.
In a statement sent to benjamidada.com, 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. We believe this will be done through partnering with pharmaceutical industry players to drive groundbreaking research and layering a data science capability on the data being collected.
In July, they announced their seed raise of $4.5M from the likes of Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC and Techammer.
The investment will enable 54gene to install electronic data capture systems in leading tertiary hospitals in Nigeria and expand their teams in Nigeria and beyond.
"This capital infusion allows us to move swiftly. We are delighted to welcome like-minded, highly experienced investors, who will embark on this journey with us, to secure Africa’s pharma future and to impact millions of people’s lives through improved healthcare and drugs provision. We are committed to curating one of the most interesting genomic and phenotypic datasets in the world that will power the development of new drugs that benefit people of all races", 54gene Founder, Ene-Obong, says.
54gene has already completed a successful pilot of bio-banking in three of Nigeria’s largest academic tertiary hospitals and it plans to reach seven more soonest. The company expects to secure 40,000 bio-bank samples by the end of this year; it is working closely with research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, technology partners and healthcare regulators on the continent to achieve this.
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.
54gene partners with pharmaceutical companies to identify new drug targets and develop treatments for diseases. It also provides genetic testing and molecular diagnostics services to patients and physicians in Africa. Partnering with pharmaceutical companies is not only a good business, as the global pharmaceutical industry is expected to reach $1.34 trillion by 2020, it could also create significant social impact.
And who knows, maybe the cure for cancer will be reached through 54gene's work.