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How Ene-Obong raises Nigeria’s Covid-19 testing capacity

A number of entrepreneurs are deploying their resources to support Nigeria’s fight against the novel coronavirus.

One of such entrepreneurs is Abasi Ene-Obong, founder of 54gene,an African genomics research and development company.

In March this year, he launched a $500,000 fund to tackle covid-19 testing challenges faced in Nigeria.

The fund, according to him, was meant to support the efforts of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

54gene opened the fund by donating $150,000. Within 24 hours of launch, it secured an additional $350,000 from partners, including Union Bank.  The money raised was meant to help increase Covid-19 testing capacity in the country by up to 1,000 additional tests a day, said 54gene. It was used to buy testing instruments and biosafety materials such as biosafety cabinets and personal protective equipment needed to keep frontline healthcare workers safe.

He is also discussing with other Nigerian institutions to raise more funds to accelerate and expand testing to 5,000 per day.

Ene-Obong said in March that his firm was working in collaboration with the NCDC to make Nigeria’s public health an absolute priority during this global pandemic, which had left thousands dead or fighting for their lives across the world.

“We are extremely ambitious in our mission to expand the testing capacity for Nigeria, and expect to increase the present rate by at least 10X in the coming weeks,” he said.

He explained that in order to contain the spread of the virus, it was essential to know who had the disease in order to put effective measures around quarantining confirmed cases in particular places.

In April, he launched a mobile laboratory in Ogun State, southwestern Nigeria. The mobile lab is a 40-foot container structure designed to reduce the logistical challenges involved in shipping samples to another location for processing.

54Gene partnered First City Monument Bank (FCMB), a financial institution, and Argentil Capital Partners, an energy and infrastructure advisory firm, which was to provide regular electricity to the facility via a 10kVA solar power solution.

In early May, Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote engaged him and his team to conduct 400 Covid-19 tests a day in Kano.According to Ene-Obong,  the mobile laboratory in Kano was also fully kitted with critical equipment,  including an autoclave, bio-safety cabinet, centrifuge, heating blocks, vortexes, pipettes, and PCR machines to support COVID-19 testing.

“Our mobile lab is fully equipped with all the vital instruments required for COVID-19 testing, and allows us to quickly offer our services to multiple states due to the ease of transport,” he said.

“Its unique plug and play feature eliminates the logistics of shipping samples to another location for the processing which reduces turnaround times for test results and allows clinicians to manage and treat patients accurately, sooner rather than later.”

Ene-Obong left his role as a management consultant in the pharmaceutical sector to move back to Nigeria to address the significant gap in the genomics market in Africa.

He founded 54gene in July 2019 to ensure the inclusion of Africans in the precision medicine revolution and improve the understanding of world’s most genetically diverse population.

He and his team were inspired to add to the body of work done on the continent in building biobanks of African genomes.

54gene partners with hospitals and research institutions in African countries and with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to address the challenge of limited diverse genomics data, which may hold the key to medical discoveries and new healthcare solutions.  It eyes ending the phenomenon of lack of diversity in DNA that is used in medicine and pharmaceutical research.

Backed by investors including Y Combinator, Fifty Years Ventures, Better Ventures, and KdT Ventures, 54gene aims to equilibrate healthcare for people of African origin while advancing the quality of medical care worldwide.

The business is looking radically to disrupt the $100billion global pharmaceutical industry.  He believes that only two or three percent of all genetic materials used in pharmaceutical research comes from Africans.

His target is to expand the scope to several African countries. He wants more African countries to be included and eyes 200,000 samples by the end of 2020.

This is not a very common industry in Nigeria but his entrance is beginning to redefine it.  He received $4.5 million in funding after launching this platform in July 2019.

“We aim to build genetic data sets that make landmark discoveries a reality,” his company says on its website.




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