Nigeria's 54gene, an African-focused HealthTech genomics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) star-up that is leading in the diagnosis and medical treatment of people in Africa, has announce that it has secured a $4,5 million in seed funding. The seed funding round saw participation from Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC and Techammer, among others.

The startup has said that the funding will help it 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 USA and Nigeria.

“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," said Abasi Ene-Obong PhD, Founder and CEO of 54gene.

54gene's team in Nigeria.

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.

“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," concluded Ene-Obong.

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