The African genome is the most genetically diverse in the world. However, until now, the global scientific community has largely ignored the rich diversity and ancestry of the continent’s DNA, which currently makes up only 2% of the global genetic database. What does this mean in reality? Global pharmaceutical companies are more frequently using genomic and phenotypic DNA research to build personalized drugs. Yet without any clear understanding or sequencing of African DNA, this will essentially leave an entire continent [and its Diaspora] without access to revolutionary new drugs. This makes genetic mapping of African DNA a pressing need.
This is the challenge which 54gene, an African genomics company that launched in January 2019, sought to tackle when its founder, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, left his role as a management consultant in the pharmaceutical sector, to move back to Nigeria to build Africa’s first biobank.
No mean feat, when you consider that Ene-Obong and his team are starting from the very beginning; there are no blueprints for this market on the continent. However, having completed stints at the prestigious US-based technology accelerator, Y Combinator, and having also graduated from the recently concluded Google Launchpad Africa accelerator program, 54gene have captured the imaginations of some highly influential international investors.
Looking to radically disrupt the $100bn global pharmaceutical industry, at the beginning of July 2019, they announced a $4.5mn seed round from Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures and KdT Ventures, which marks the biggest seed round for a Nigerian healthtech startup.
We spoke to this enigmatic doctor-turned-entrepreneur to get an insight into 54gene and the dynamics of the African health tech sector: