Although people from Africa have the most genetically diverse DNA this accounts for only 2% of the genetic data used for research. This means that people of African descent are overwhelmingly excluded in genomic-based research. One company’s mission is in fact to change that unfortunate dynamic. 54gene, based out of Nigeria seeks to improve the inclusion of African populations in global genomics research endeavors. TrialSite News breaks down more about how they plan on accomplishing this noble and ambitious goal.
Mia McKnight at Borgen Magazine introduces the reader to 54gene. As the company is based out of Nigeria, TrialSite takes great interest in supporting research enterprises in Africa. For example, TrialSite covered that most populous African nation in Feb. 2020. And just recently, the TrialSite Podcast showcased the founder of a Nigerian contract research organization.
Why is the lack of African Participation in genomic research a problem?
Well as the march forward toward precision medicine proceeds over 1 billion people residing in Africa alone are left behind as only 2% of this population is represented in the genomic research. A concern as better understanding of genetics points to improved treatment for any number of diseases, especially infectious disease and non-communicable disease rampant in Africa. Put another way, about 90% of the genetic material used in biopharmaceutical research is derived from Caucasians. Although only 2% of the total genomic research is Africa, the African peoples have the most genetically diverse genetics. Consequently the biopharmaceutical industry lacks the diverse data that can potentially hold the key to medical discoveries and novel, breakthrough healthcare solutions.
What is 54gene’s background?
Founded in 2019 by Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, 54gene was formed to address this considerable gap in the global genomics market. About 90% of the genetic material used in biopharmaceutical research is derived from Caucasians. Although only 2% of the total genomic research is Africa, the African peoples have the most genetically diverse genetics. Consequently the biopharmaceutical industry lacks the diverse data that can potentially hold the key to medical discoveries and novel, breakthrough healthcare solutions.
What’s 54gene’s mission?
Their goal, an ambitious yet important one: “equalize precision medicine.” As the biopharmaceutical sector makes increasing use of genomic and phenotypic DNA research to develop personalized drugs at rapidly increasing rates, 54gene aims to rapidly increase African representation and participation.
Yes. 54gene has raised $19.5 million in 2 rounds. Their latest funding was on April 14, 2020 from a Series A round. This included 14 investors such as Aera VC, Better Ventures, Fifty Years, Pioneer Fund, V8 Capital, Ingressive Capital, Y Combinator and more reported in Crunchbase.
What is the founder’s story?
Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong was educated in London and worked in healthcare and life science positions in San Francisco and this new venture has him returning to his home country of Nigeria to launch this first African biobank. He launched the company to ensure that drug development includes African genomic influence. As the company grows, via volunteer sample/tissue contribution, he seeks to invest in African-based health and life science ventures. Africa’s an important place and any deals Dr. Ene-Obong’s company entertains prioritizes those companies that commit to African countries in their drug distribution strategies.
Ms. McKnight reports that 54gene is already directly creating life science-based jobs in Nigeria while creating research jobs for Nigerian talent via its network.