Africa | April 15, 2020

54gene closes $15 million to accelerate genomics research in Africa

Jessica Pothering
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

ImpactAlpha, April 15 – Medicine is moving towards customized treatments and drugs based on genetic research. 54gene wants to ensure that African patients aren’t left out of the breakthroughs.

The Nigerian startup is building Africa’s first biobank to serve as a database for medical companies developing new therapeutics. The company’s $15 million Series A round will be used to build partnerships to co-develop treatments and clinical programs in Africa.

“Our focus will be on building a genomic resource that we hope will add significantly to global health,” 54gene’s founder Abasi Ene-Obong told ImpactAlpha.

Life sciences investment firm Adjuvant Capital, Novartis, and the Gates Foundation led the round, with participation from Y Combinator, Better Ventures, Fifty Years and others. 

Currently, less than 3% of genetic data used in therapeutics development comes from people with African ancestry. “Africa is not producing genetic data—the biggest labs in Africa still ship bio samples for testing in Europe, because they don’t have that capability,” said Ene-Obong.

Science, he added, is at a point where treatments for infectious and non-infectious diseases require genetic research and data. That includes COVID-19. 

“Our specific expertise places us in a unique position to contribute immediately and rapidly to get COVID-19 testing off the ground and further support testing efforts in Nigeria,” Ene-Obong explained.

The company is also thinking long-term about the pandemic and how to support studies to understand disease resistance, susceptibility or long-term immunity.


54gene was launched 15 months ago by diagnostics startup StackDx. It secured pre-seed funding from Microtraction, an early investment fund that aims to help African startups overcome early funding gaps, then followed quickly with a $4.5 million seed round last July.

Early funding makes a big difference when starting up a company in many African countries, Ene-Obong said. “Deep technology, particularly in the biotech industry, requires more resources, however.”

Last week, MedGenome raised $55 million last week for a similar initiative in South Asia.