SEATTLE, Washington — 54gene is a company based out of Nigeria that is improving the inclusion of African populations in global genomics research. It does so by gathering and distributing insights from the African genome. Although Africans have the most genetically diverse DNA, it only accounts for 2% of the genetic data used for research. This is a concern for the future of medicine. Understanding genetic makeup can lead to better treatment of non-communicable and infectious diseases. The start-up company’s commitment to ethical research practices is one reason why 54gene equalizes precision medicine. Furthermore, it reaches more than 20 leading tertiary hospitals and has access to more than nine million patients.
The main mission of the company is to equalize “precision medicine.” This is becoming increasingly important as global pharmaceutical companies are using genomic and phenotypic DNA research. They do so to build personalized drugs at an accelerating rate. The African genome is the most genetically diverse in the world. Therefore, it is vital for many populations that a rich biobank is assembled and utilized in research and the development of treatments. Without using the diversity of Africa’s DNA, the scientific community excludes an entire continent from using revolutionary drugs. Additionally, it excludes the millions around the world of Africa’s Diaspora.
It was this realization that led the company’s founder, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, to return to Nigeria and create Africa’s first biobank. The start-up sources genetic material from volunteers across the entirety of Africa to ensure that medical innovations are equally applicable to everyone. His work is eliminating the blind spots in drug research and making new drugs more available for all people.
Ene-Obong’s intention does not end there. His company is integral for equitable drug creation. He also wants it to become integral for the distribution of these drugs to Africa. Aware of the ugly history of colonial exploitation, his company is going to invest in Africa instead. Africa should benefit from the other companies that are using 54gene’s biobank to make new, marketable drugs. 54gene prioritizes its partnerships with countries that commit to including African countries in their marketing plans for drugs developed using the biobank. Ene-Obong’s efforts to address inequalities in both the scientific and business communities will play no small role in improving the health and economic infrastructures.
54gene will improve impoverished communities directly and indirectly by ensuring that medical innovations are available to them. Offering jobs in Africa’s health tech sector will accomplish this goal. As well as supporting both development and academic research. 54gene provided more than 300 research jobs to Nigerian talent and 80% of its total number of employees are of Nigerian heritage. This company offers career and educational opportunities in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, improving the overall economy of the region.
One of 54gene’s main focuses is to address diseases that largely afflict African populations and develop new vaccines and treatments for them. Their connection with multiple hospitals in Africa means that more communities will have access to cutting-edge healthcare.
Through improving healthcare for Africans, 54gene helps families in poverty. They treat preventable deaths of children and adults, thus also helping those on the brink of poverty. Notably, 54gene reinvests in the communities where participants who donate their genetic material are recruited. This encourages mass participation while reducing poverty. This strategy helps all involved.
With more than 300 researchers and plentiful biological samples, a medical breakthrough is bound to occur. 54gene supports local researchers in Africa because it gives them training and restricted access to anonymous, genetic data. As a result, many are able to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals that are internationally read and cited.
54gene and COVID-19
Believe it or not 54gene is doing even more than leading the way for the genetic mapping of African DNA. The coronavirus pandemic stretched Nigeria’s health systems and cash transfer programs for poor and vulnerable households dangerously thin. 54gene decided to address the major testing deficit in Nigeria by launching a testing fund to increase testing by up to 1,000 additional tests per day.
54gene and its partners donated money used for testing instruments and personal protective equipment to public laboratories and hospitals around the country. Ene-Obong said Nigeria’s public health is “an absolute priority during this global pandemic.” He has proven his concerns with 54gene’s building of mobile laboratories to boost testing in different areas in order to track COVID-19’s spread and prevalence. His company’s work in Nigeria has become a model for other African nations.
Improving Africa’s Healthcare Sector
54gene is just the beginning of the many coming health tech investments to appear in Africa. He plans for his company to expand beyond the Nigerian capital Lagos to a number of other African countries. 54gene equalizes precision medicine through its expansion. It also creates livelihoods and saves lives. Its initiative to promote genomics research and development in Africa will have a lasting impact and enable future health innovations to be discovered, helping the generations to come.
– Mia McKnight