BY TOM JACKSON
Nigerian genetics startup 54gene has partnered US firm Illumina to power the creation of a world-class genomics facility in Lagos.
Launched in 2019, 54gene is a research, services and development company founded that utilises human genetic data from diverse African populations to improve the development, availability and efficacy of medical products that will prove beneficial to Africans and the wider global population.
The startup recently raised a US$15 million Series A funding round, and is now expanding its offering via its partnership with Illumina, which is striving to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome.
The partnership will support the establishment of a new genetics facility in Lagos, equipped with a suite of Illumina’s cutting-edge sequencing and high-density microarray technology platforms, which will generate genetic information for health research and drug development.
Africa contains more genetic diversity than any other continent because the African genome is the oldest human genome. Yet it is estimated that fewer than three per cent of the genomes analysed come from Africans, making it a potentially rich source of new genetic information for health and drug discovery research, which 54gene intends to leverage as a global research resource while ensuring Africans benefit from cutting edge medical innovations.
Through this new partnership, African samples stored in 54gene’s de-identified biobank will be genotyped, sequenced and analysed without the need to send samples overseas. Having local infrastructure will reduce costs and turnaround time for test results. Illumina will also deliver its renowned training to support the use of its sequencing and microarray equipment and ensure ongoing support for 54gene’s growing team of molecular scientists.
54gene founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Dr Abasi Ene-Obong said the addition of Illumina’s cutting-edge technology to 54gene’s research and diagnostic capabilities was a critical step for the company in fulfilling its mission of equalising precision medicine.
“This is part of our wider commitment to build capacity and infrastructure in Africa which will allow us to significantly expand genomics research, while also improving health outcomes on the continent. Alongside our many partners in the African medical and scientific community, we want to make advanced molecular diagnostics more accessible to the region, while creating hundreds of skilled jobs in molecular biology and bioinformatics,” he said.
Paula Dowdy, SVP and general manager for EMEA at Illumina, said it was “incredibly important” to ensure equitable access to genomic sequencing technology across the world so that genomes can be interpreted in the context of global diversity.
“Through partnerships such as this with 54gene, we aim to remove barriers of access to sequencing and expand the benefits of genomics to as many people as possible,” she said.