54gene Raises $4.5 million to Create the World's First African DNA Biobank

Nigerian medical startup 54gene has secured a $4.5 million seed funding barely 7 months after it launched. The sum was raised from investors some of which include YCombinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC and Techammer.

The company says the new funding will allow it to create the world’s first biobank of African DNA. The new funding will also go into installing electronic data capture systems in hospitals in Nigeria and to hire team members for its Nigeria and US operations. The startup is also looking to expand to other African countries.

“This capital infusion allows us to move swiftly”, says Dr Abasi Ene-Obong, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of 54gene. “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”, he adds.

Founded in 2019, 54gene is a genomics startup. The startup offers genetic testing and molecular diagnostics services to Africans which helps to unlock information about their health.

In the healthcare industry, pharmaceutical research relies on data about humans to develop new drugs and medical innovations. However, according to Abasi, there is a diversity problem in data used for global genomics research. Only 2% of genetic research focuses on African subjects, he wrote on the company’s blog. Meanwhile 90% of genetic research is derived from Caucasian data.

Meanwhile, research shows that Africans are more genetically diverse compared to people from other regions of the world.

As a result of this, “there’s a chance that many of the new personalized medicines or diagnostics will not work well when administered to people of African origin,” he wrote.

54gene was created to address this diversity problem and provide medical researchers with a rich trove of DNA data from people of African ancestry.

“It’s a dirty secret that the world’s genomic datasets are overwhelmingly Caucasian” says Seth Bannon, founding partner at Fifty Years, an impacting investing firm. “By building datasets that are more inclusive, 54Gene will help democratize molecular medicine while unlocking insights that will lead to better therapeutics for everyone.”

With its new round of funding, 54gene will create a DNA biobank to house the data. The data bank will help researchers in pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs while plugging the genomic gap in genetic data diversity.

It expects the biobank to have 40,000 samples by the end of the year. That’s an interesting goal for a company barely six months old. To achieve this however, 54gene says it will work with 10 teaching hospitals operated by Nigerian universities. The company has already done similar before, working with three university hospitals on a pilot.

This latest round of funding is another positive news recorded by the company in recent months. In March 2019, the startup was a cohort for the YCombinator 2019 Winter program. As a cohort, the company received $150,000 funding from the tech hub, and got the chance to pitch at the hub’s demo day event.

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