NIGERIA – Since launching in 2019, African genomics startup 54gene has been at the forefront of bridging the divide in the global genomics market to which it has received a huge boost having secured US$25 million in Series B funding to bolster its efforts.
Less than 3% of genetic material used in global pharmaceutical research is from Africa. The staggering gap is quite surprising because Africans and people of African descent are reported to be more genetically diverse than any other population.
This round comes a year after the company, founded by Dr Abasi Ene-Obong, raised US$15 million in Series A and two years after closing a US$4.5 million seed round. In total, 54gene has raised more than US$45 million since its inception.
With the world’s analyzed genomes coming mostly from anywhere that isn’t Africa, the continent remains a valuable source of new genetic information for health and drug discovery research.
However, unlike fintech and other fast-moving sectors like e-commerce, innovation in healthtech takes some time to take shape finally. 54gene is one of the few startups in the sector and even in Africa to have moved from seed stage to Series B in under two years.
Commenting on the growth strides the startup has been able to achieve, Dr Abasi says, “Though the arc of conducting early research through drug approval can be long in biotech, we have taken the approach to building the backbone that is needed for short-term successes to long-term gains that provide better healthcare delivery and treatment outcomes from diseases.”
During its last raise, 54gene had a biobank capacity for 60,000 samples. It is estimated that by now, the two-year-old company has a biobank capacity for 300,000 samples, close to its longer-term aim to manage up to 500,000.
Another of 54genes’ winning strategical plans is the recruitment and training of talent to generate and process data needed to produce insights for the company’s drug discovery efforts and 54gene plans to use part of the new funding to recruit and train more professionals.
Other uses of funding will be to expand its capabilities in sequencing, target identification and validation, and precision medicine clinical trials. Also, of great importance is its expansion across the African continent.
54gene will have to sign off partnerships to aid this expansion. A recent partnership was made between the company and the Tanzania Human Genetics Organization and Ene-Obong says 54gene is in varying stages of conversations with more partners. However, he was tight-lipped on who they might be.
“We are excited about our Africa-first approach which will see us expand to countries within East and West Africa in the coming year,” he added.
Pan-African venture capital firm Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund led this round. Lead investor from the company’s Series A funding, Adjuvant Capital invested once again with participation from other VCs including KdT Ventures, Plexo Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, and Ingressive Capital.