Biotech company 54Gene has increased Nigeria’s laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19 with a mobile laboratory in Ogun, a state in the southwestern region.

In addition to its DNA biobank lab in Lagos, the number of molecular laboratories in the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s network of coronavirus test centers rises to 17 as of press time. 

A relatively new and private health tech company, 54Gene has taken an active role in promoting the expansion of coronavirus testing in Nigeria. In March, it launched a fund aimed at increasing the country’s ability to test for the disease, accruing up to $500,000 in donations from the private sector.

The mobile lab is a 40ft container structure. It is designed as a plug and play feature that minimises the logistical challenges involved in shipping samples to another location for processing. 

The hope is that the time and cost savings can be channeled usefully into more pressing infrastructural needs. Attention can be paid to ensuring the availability of test equipment, protective gear for healthcare workers and other vital accessories. 

54Gene’s partners for the  mobile lab include First City Monument Bank (FCMB), a financial institution, and Argentil Capital Partners, a Nigerian-based energy and infrastructure advisory firm.

Arnergy, a Nigerian renewable energy company, will provide regular power supply to the facility through a 10kVA solar power solution. 

54Gene’s mobile lab loaded on a container. Image credit: 54Gene
The company says the lab is “fully kitted with vital instruments including an autoclave, biosafety cabinet, centrifuge, heating blocks, vortexes, pipettes, and PCR machines to support COVID-19 testing.” Image credit: 54Gene

After much criticism for the relatively slow pace of testing, Nigeria’s health authorities have begun taking steps to scale up over the past month. As of March 30 when Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states went into a federally mandated lockdown, there were only 6 accredited laboratories for testing.

In the time since, other facilities have been added in states outside Lagos, the epicenter, including northern Nigerian states like Kano where reports of strange deaths have caused widespread concern. 

After a temporary freeze, testing has resumed in the state at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, a government-owned tertiary care facility. 54Gene says it has plans to roll out a mobile lab in the state soon.

The biotech company’s stationery lab (in Lagos) and mobile lab (in Ogun) become the first accredited private facilities to join the country’s network COVID-19 test centres.  

The startup recently completed a $15 million Series A round to scale its core business of building  a pan-African genome data bank for research, disease prevention and drug development. 

Alexander Onukwue Author

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox