Among all the startups to come out of Nigeria and Africa, 54gene is one of the most innovative and visionary. Research shows that Africans and people of African ancestry are more genetically diverse than all other world populations combined.
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Despite this research,90% of genetic materials used in pharmaceutical research all over the world are Caucasian, while less than 3% are African. 54gene was founded by Dr Abasi Ene-Obong, to solve this dilemma by incorporating Africans that are not sufficiently represented in global genomics research.
The startup secured $25 million in Series B funding in September 2021 to increase its efforts. Before then, the startup raised $15 million in Series A two years after closing a $4.5 million seed round. In total, 54gene has raised more than $45 million since its inception.
54gene intended to recruit and train more professionals as well as expand its capabilities in sequencing, target identification and validation, and precision medicine clinical trials. The startup also planned to expand to other African countries especially in East and West Africa this year.
54gene launched its genetics sequencing and microarray lab in Lagos in partnership with U.S.-based biotech company Illumina in September 2021 to offer its genotyping capabilities, whole-genome sequencing (WGS), and whole-exome sequencing (WES). Genotyping tends to show only 0.02% of an individual’s DNA; however, WGS can show almost 100% of the same person’s DNA. For WES, although it represents only 1.5% of the human genome, it shows approximately 85% of known disease-related variants.
With these three in place, the company can advance genomics research and expand its ability to help scientists and researchers in Africa. In December 2021, the startup announced the inauguration of its diagnostics subsidiary, 7RiverLabs which is fitted with state-of-the-art technology to offer healthcare providers and patients access to world-class cost-effective, speedy, reliable, and advanced molecular diagnostics.
The laboratories with over 100 employees were first opened in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt while additional centres were launched this year, 2022, in Anambra, Enugu, Gombe, Adamawa, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Taraba, etc. Expansion of 7Riverlabs into other African countries has also been on course since the first quarter (Q1) of 2022.
Through the use of the 7river laboratories, over 300 critical molecular tests can now be performed safely and securely in Africa, covering oncology, infectious diseases, genetic testing and sequencing, anatomic pathology, clinical chemistry, microbiology, and haematology serving both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Some of the tests cost as little as a few thousand nairas and are generally more affordable than the existing market prices. The results, depending on the complexness, are provided in as little time as a few hours to a few days and are sent digitally to patients’ physicians for follow-up. Before it raised the seriesA, 54gene had a biobank capacity for 60,000 samples. Currently, it has a biobank capacity of 300,000 samples, close to its longer-term aim to manage up to 500,000 samples which show the company is increasing its biobanking capacity by 5x and that counts as a major success.
Unlike fintechs and other fast-moving sectors like e-commerce, innovation in health tech takes a lot of time to take shape finally but 54gene has done very well to be their best version. The startup is one of the few startups in the health sector and Africa to have moved from seed stage to Series B in less than two years.
This startup stands out because it has been able to create a niche market for itself where it solves real problems in real-time as well as boosts the health sector in Nigeria and Africa.Featured Image Source: Disrupt Africa
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