54gene raises $25m Series B to push drug discovery research in Africa

Africa lags behind the rest of the world in drug discovery research despite being the region that is most affected by major diseases in the world. Many diseases endemic to Africa differ from those of more advanced economies or are often more severe.

While governments of the different countries have paid little attention to drug discovery, the private sector has led the way. Startups like 54gene have also been deploying technology to increase research in various fields of medicine.

Starting with research in African genomics, 54gene is now pushing into drugs discovery research with a $25 million in a Series B round led by Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund. Other participants in the funding include Adjuvant Capital, KdT Ventures, Plexo Capital, Endeavor Capital, Ingressive Capital, and others.

Founded in 2019, 54gene generates genetic insights from research cohorts in the world’s most diverse populations to improve the development, availability, and efficacy of therapeutics and diagnostics that will prove beneficial to all populations. The company’s dedication to advancing medical research on the continent has held investors’ attention since it was founded. The latest round brings the total investment to date to more than $45 million.

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Abasi Ene-Obong, CEO of 54gene says the company’s plans extensively develop life science capabilities in Africa in order to scale global drug discovery. The funding will go into expanding the company’s capabilities in sequencing, target identification, and validation, and precision medicine clinical trials enabling the discovery of new drugs in Africa for both people in the continent and outside.

“In this round, we have brought in partners that keep us true to our mission of equalizing healthcare and who can help us replicate our success throughout Africa. We believe the world will benefit from an African global drug discovery company that leverages the deep insights found in genomics research in diverse populations and ensures true equity for the African population. It’s exciting to see our company shift into the next gear as it targets becoming one of the top global companies in genomics research,” Ene-Obong said.

The new capital will also enable the company to begin its expansion across the African continent. 54gene will also be expanding its genomics and molecular diagnostics division across Africa, ensuring that African patients get access to accurate diagnostics and enabling the application of precision medicine in the clinical setting throughout the continent. To lead this new business unit, the company has brought in Michelle Ephraim, as General Manager Diagnostics Pan-Africa. Michelle has held various sales leadership roles across Africa for Leica Biosystems, PerkinElmer, and Merck Millipore.

The company also announced several strategic senior appointments to help with the new expansion of its life science business. The appointments include Colm O’Dushlaine, Vice President – Genomics and Data Science, joins with over 18 years experience in statistical genetics of large-scale datasets and was formerly at Regeneron Genetic Center and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

Peter Fekkes, Vice President – Drug Discovery, developed and led drug discovery programs at Novartis, FogPharma, and H3 Biosciences.

Teresia Bost, General Counsel, joins with over 20 years experience in healthcare where she’s held various senior counsel roles at Celgene, was VP & Associate General Counsel at Jazz Pharmaceuticals, and General Counsel at Quartet Health.

Jude Uzonwanne, Chief Business Officer, was formerly a partner at IQVIA, ZS Associates, and held multiple roles at the Monitor Group, Bain and Company, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“At Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, we’re dedicated to backing innovative, inclusive solutions that connect African technology and research with global innovation ecosystems to help them scale. 54gene works across drug discovery, molecular diagnostics, and clinical trials, boosting access and affordability of various healthcare solutions that will have a positive impact worldwide. We look forward to working with the 54gene team on their development on the continent and beyond,” Yassine Oussaifi, Partner at Cathay AfricInvest said.