16/07/2020

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Startup: Nigerian healthtech 54gene closes $15m Series-A raise

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Nigerian health tech platform 54gene has closed a $15-million Series-A round.

The round was led by Adjuvant Capital, a US-based life sciences fund. Adjuvant Capital’s investors include the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), pharmaceutical company Novartis, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The round included participation from Raba Capital, V8 Capital, Ingressive Capital, and follow on investment from Y Combinator, Better Ventures, Fifty Years, KdT Ventures, Aera VC and Pioneer Fund.

The platform, which aims to improve drug discovery by researching the genetically diverse African population, was founded by Abasi Ene-Obong (pictured above) and has offices in Lagos and Washington DC. It was launched in January last year.

The latest investment follows a seed round of $4.5-million that the startup received in July last year (see this story), which brings the company’s total venture capital (VC) investment to $19.5-million. 54gene’s $15m round led by Adjuvant Capital, the IFC, Novartis and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In a statement today, the startup said the investment will allow the company to scale operations in support of generating novel insights from human genetics research.

It said the investment will also be used to accelerate discovery capabilities by bolstering operations in genetics, bioinformatics, preclinical, clinical and commercial programmes.

‘Working with 300 researchers, clinicians’

The startup said it is currently working with over 300 researchers, clinicians and geneticists across the continent.

The company has also built an African Biobank, a state-of-the-art biorepository which stores biological samples to provide access to aggregated, de-identified data and bio-specimen mainly for secondary use by researchers, to support both academic and development research.

The startup added that it will explore partnerships and opportunities for co-development of drug targets and therapeutics, and expects to partner with pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic companies for clinical programme in Africa.

It said this will be led by 54gene’s newly appointed vice president of clinical and regulatory affairs, Kemi Williams, who was formerly head of clinical affairs for Siemens Healthineers US molecular diagnostics business, and previously worked at Roche, Abbott and Medtronic.

‘Expanding collaborations in Africa’

Ene-Obong said in the statement that in the coming months the startup will be focusing on building a genomic resource that we hope will add significantly to global health, while also translating to the health benefits of patients in Africa.

“We will also be expanding our collaborations in Africa with both public and private stakeholders and investing in setting up a state-of-the-art research lab with high-throughput genetic processing and BSL 3 capabilities in Nigeria, and ensuring that we build some of our innovative pipelines on the African continent,” he said.

In addition, 54gene also announced the formation of its Scientific Advisory Board.

The board is composed of global leaders in clinical genetics, bioinformatics and data science, it said. These are: Center for Genomic Health’s Michael F Murray, Stanford University’s Manuel Rivas, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals’ Greg Hinkle and Related Sciences’s Jeff Hammerbacher.

Last month the startup announced in a blog post that it had launched a fund to tackle the current challenges around testing for COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Correction: We incorrectly had it that 54Gene has a US office in San Francisco. It is actually Washington DC.

Featured image: Founder of 54gene, Abasi Ene-Obong (Twitter)