54Gene Has Raised $4.5m Seed Funding to Build Africa’s First Biobank


Biotech startup, 54Gene, has raised $4.5 million in a seed round of funding to allow it build pan-Africans first biobank. This funding round had participations from a host of investors including Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC and Techammer.

This round of funding marks a huge milestone for the 6-month-old startup.

A product of Stack Diagnostics (Stack DX), the startup was founded in January by Abasi Ene-Obong (CEO), Damilola Oni, Gatumi Aliyu, Ogochukwu Francis Osifo. It offers genetic testing and molecular diagnostics services to Africans.

The startup was selected in March for YCombinator cohorts for the Winter 2019 program where it raised $150,000 in pre-seed funding. It was also selected to participate in the 3rd class Google Launchpad Africa Accelerator alongside 2 other Nigerian startups, while its parent company Stack DX raised funding from early-stage VC firm Microtraction.

Now with this new round of funding, 54Gene will be building what it calls the largest database of genomic and phenotypic data of Africans. According to 54Gene, only 2% of the data used in Genome-wide Association Studies [GWAS] were of African ancestry, and it wants to change this narrative.

Now with this Africa-focused biobank, unique data sets will be used exclusively for research across multiple disease states to aid drug discoveries.

The genomic revolution has taken place everywhere except for Africa; home to more than 1 billion people, and the very birthplace of humankind. What many people don’t realize is how genetically diverse Africa is, and that Africans have married within their tribes for thousands of years, which makes our DNA ideal for studying loss-of-function type mutations that can be replicated into new drugs. We believe this will be done through partnering with pharmaceutical industry players to drive groundbreaking research and layering a data science capability on the data being collected.

Abasi Ene-Obong, Founder and CEO of 54gene.
Abasi Ene-Obong, Founder and CEO of 54gene. Credit: Tatay Digong

The startup will also be installing electronic data capture systems in the leading tertiary hospitals in Nigeria, and expand its teams in Nigeria and the United States, after which an African expansion will follow.

Already, the startup has run a successful pilot of its biobank in three Nigerian academic tertiary hospitals. But now, it will be extending this to 7 more and expand the bank’s scope from oncology to include cardiology, neurology, endocrinology and sickle cell disease.

54gene expects to secure 40,000 biobank samples by the end of this year and is working with research institutions on the continent, pharmaceutical companies, technology partners and healthcare regulators, to achieve this.

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