A genomic company known as 54gene is building the first pan-African Biobank that will target many diseases.
Black people especially Africans are at a disadvantage when it comes to the provision of drug for treatments because they represent only 2% of the genetic samples used for pharmaceutical research. To close the gap, a Nigeria-based genomics company “54gene” has set up a genetic research laboratory in Lagos, from where it intends to analyse some 40,000 DNA data samples by the end of 2019, with a view to reaching 100,000 over the next 12 months.
According to the Nigerian born Abasi Ene-Obong, founder and CEO of biotech start-up 54gene, most drugs are not made with Africans in mind, they are not trialled clinically with an African population. Thus, what we have are drugs with lower efficacy for African populations and with poorer safety profiles. To remedy the situation, the CEO of biotech added that since black Africans and people of black ancestry are more genetically diverse than all of the other populations in the world combined, to make their genetic information a huge resource to be tapped, 54gene has decided to partner with pharmaceutical companies to identify new drug targets and develop diagnostics and treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neuro-degenerative diseases.
Pharmaceutical giants often manufacture drugs for the profitable Western market, and the generic variants are only available in Africa after these companies lose their patents. "Our goal is to make sure that people are being diagnosed and treated using similar standards of care that you'll find in the UK or the US," Obasi reiterates.
The biotech firm - named after the 54 internationally recognised countries in Africa - also plans to expand operations on the continent through partnerships with pharmaceuticals and research programmes. There are several governments in Africa, for example in Kenya and Uganda, where the authorities have proposed the mass collection of DNA data to help fight crime.
The data collected by 54gene could therefore be valuable to the government and other private organisations. Since its launching in January, 54gene has been skyrocketing especially after receiving seed funds in July 2019 from investors.