54gene (the D.B.A. of Stack Diagnostics), the African-focused healthtech genomics and AI start-up that is leading in the diagnosis and medical treatment of people in Africa, has raised a $4.5M seed round with participation from Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC and Techammer, among others. The early-stage investment will allow the six-month old start-up to pioneer and build the world’s first African DNA biobank, install electronic data capture systems in the leading tertiary hospitals in Nigeria and expand its world-class teams both in the US and Nigeria, ahead of the company’s expansion plans on the continent.
As of 2018, only 2% of the data used in Genome-wide Association Studies [GWAS] were of African ancestry. 54gene is now positioned to build the largest database of genomic and phenotypic consented data of Africans. The unique data sets will be used exclusively for research; to proactively address the significant gap the genomics market currently poses for Africa, using African DNA to focus on drug discovery opportunities that will improve access.
Following a successful pilot in three of Nigeria’s largest academic tertiary hospitals, the YC alumnus is strategically expanding its biobanking activities to 10 of the country’s academic tertiary hospitals. The biobank’s focus has also expanded from oncology to include cardiology, neurology, endocrinology and sickle cell disease. The company expects to secure 40,000 biobank samples by the end of this year and is working closely with research institutions on the continent, pharmaceutical companies, technology partners and healthcare regulators, to achieve this.
Abasi Ene-Obong PhD, Founder and CEO of 54gene says, “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.
“This capital infusion allows us to move swiftly. We are delighted to welcome like-minded, highly experienced investors, who will embark on this journey with us, to secure Africa’s pharma future and to impact millions of people’s lives through improved healthcare and drugs provision. We are committed to curating one of the most interesting genomic and phenotypic datasets in the world that will power the development of new drugs that benefit people of all races.”
The global pharmaceutical industry is expected to reach $1.34 trillion by 2020. 54gene will focus its attention on Africa and the African Diaspora, charting new territory for the global pharma industry.
Seth Bannon, Founding Partner at Fifty Years, “It’s a dirty secret that the world’s genomic datasets are overwhelmingly caucasian. By building datasets that are more inclusive, 54Gene will help democratize molecular medicine while unlocking insights that will lead to better therapeutics for everyone.”
Mack Healy, KDT says: “KdT is thrilled to partner with Abasi and 54gene as they unlock insights from an under-explored genetic data layer. The subsequent diagnostic and therapeutic insights will be invaluable in the advancement of the quality of healthcare and well being of an increasingly large and underrepresented population.”
Wes Selke Better VC adds, “We’re thrilled to be working with Abasi and the team at 54Gene as they unlock the potential of the African genome to benefit global health and democratize access to molecular medicine. Abasi is the quintessential mission-driven founder we seek to back who is using breakthrough technology to solve a big problem.”
Ene-Obong concludes, “Today, it takes 10 to 15 years after an innovative drug has been launched in the US or Europe for it to get to Africa. If we understand the genetic profile of diseases that are prevalent amongst Africans, we can deliver population health management strategies to people of African origin all over the world, helping equilibrate medical care for all. Technology will allow us to achieve this, at scale and we plan to reach some impressive and unique milestones in 2019.”