54gene, the African genomics research, services, and development company, has closed a Series A round of $15 million, led by Adjuvant Capital, a life sciences fund backed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), 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.
In July 2019, 54gene secured a Seed round of $4.5 million which brings the company’s total VC investment to $19.5 million.
The new investment will allow the company to scale operations in support of generating novel insights from human genetics research that result in high impact discoveries for improving human health through therapeutic development. The investment will also be used to accelerate discovery capabilities by bolstering operations in genetics, bioinformatics, pre-clinical, clinical and commercial programs.
54gene was launched in January 2019 to address the significant gap the genomics market currently poses for Africa, and build and use African genetic data sets to make landmark discoveries to support therapeutic development. As of 2018, less than 3% of the data used in Genome-wide Association Studies (GWAS) were of African ancestry and currently, less than 1% of global drug discovery occurs on the African continent. Located in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, and in the US, 54gene aims to improve the development, availability and efficacy of medical products that will prove beneficial to Africans and the wider global population.
As part of its next stage of growth, the company will further 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 programs in Africa, which will be led by 54gene’s newly appointed VP 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.
In addition to its Series A raise, 54gene is also announcing the formation of its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB is composed of global leaders in clinical genetics, bioinformatics and data science and includes Michael F. Murray MD, Director of Clinical Operations, Center for Genomic Health Professor Dept of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine, Manuel Rivas PhD, Assistant Professor at Stanford University, Greg Hinkle PhD, VP Research Informatics, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Jeff Hammerbacher, Founder and General Partner, Related Sciences.
Speaking about the new investment, Abasi Ene-Obong, the 54gene founder and CEO, said: “This new partnership marks a significant evolution in the growth of our company. In the coming months we 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.”
54gene currently works with over 300 researchers, clinicians and geneticists across the continent, to improve the global collective knowledge of genomic determinants of health and to facilitate translational research. 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.
Jenny Yip, Managing Partner of Adjuvant Capital adds: “There is enormous potential in expanding the reach of global drug and vaccine discovery by including more diverse populations in research efforts. We were impressed by 54gene’s commitment to building a world-class network of African clinicians and geneticists and are excited to work with them as they scale and seek to drive meaningful improvements in global public health.”
Dr. Ene-Obong concludes: “This funding comes at a historically meaningful time, allowing us to deliver global impact through continued investment in research and strategic partnerships with leaders in the biomedical industry. We want to support the crucial work of our partners in Africa while improving global health and are committed to promoting a safe, ethical and beneficial research practice.”
Adjuvant is a New York and San Francisco-based life sciences fund built to accelerate the development of new technologies for the world’s most pressing public health challenges. Backed by healthcare investors such as IFC, Novartis, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Adjuvant draws upon its global network of scientists, public health experts, biopharmaceutical industry veterans, and development finance professionals to identify new investment opportunities. Adjuvant invests in companies developing promising new vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices for historically overlooked indications such as malaria, cholera, Lassa fever and postpartum hemorrhage, with a commitment to make these interventions accessible to those who need them most in low- and middle-income countries.