Africa-focused healthcare and Artificial Intelligence startup, 54gene has raised $4.5 million seed round from Y Combinator, Better Ventures, Fifty Years, KdT Ventures, Hack VC, TechHammer, Pioneer Fund, amongst others. They plan to use it to build a pan-African Biobank for research and development of the African genome (DNA).
54gene intends to build the world’s first Africa-focused biobank, install electronic data capturing systems in Nigerian hospitals and expand across the continent. Through a partnership with pharmaceutical companies, they will drive cutting edge research in African genomics. They plan to secure 40,000 biobank samples by the end of the year in collaboration with research institutes on the continent.
Genomics is the study of the collective characterization and quantification of an organism’s genetic material. The CEO of 54gene, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong founded the startup in January 2019 to meet the global demand for a pan-African biobank. He discovered that 90% of genetic research materials were of Caucasian origin. Surprisingly, only 2% were from Africa, even though Africans are more genetically diverse than all other races.
Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong decided that building research centers for studying the African genome dataset could lead to the identification of diagnostics and discoveries of new drugs for people across all races. In a talk with Techcrunch, Dr. Abasi spoke passionately on his belief that African genetic data holds the key to unlocking medical discoveries. A typical example he cited was the Romosozumab osteoporosis drug discovered by investigating a genetic mutation in South African Afrikaner patients.
The 54 in the name 54gene represents the number of countries in Africa which comprise of more than 2000 diverse ethnic groups. As a result of this diversity, many genetic variations could be found in Africa. Following a successful pilot phase in three notable teaching hospitals in Nigeria, 54gene is ready to scale. The 6 months old Y Combinator alumnus will leverage its presence in San Francisco and Lagos to continually collect materials for research.
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