Health technology is a rapidly growing industry, and I don’t think I need to explain why. Just look around you. Here we are, six months into a pandemic with little improvement in sight. How is there not a reliable treatment for COVID-19 yet? With over 24 million cases worldwide, how will the eventual vaccine be able to effectively immunize the whole world when there are still treatments for diseases from outbreaks past that don’t work for many patients?
Our Startup of the Week, 54gene ($PRIVATE:54GENE), has some answers. According to 54gene, the African genome is the most genetically diverse than all others in the world combined, yet makes up for only 3% of the data used for research and development of medicines and treatments.
At a BusinessDay panel in March, CEO Abasi Ene-Obong described the problem which 54gene addresses. “Twenty-five percent of Africans cannot metabolize [a certain HIV drug],” he said. “Why is that? Because when that drug is being discovered and being trialed, the drug companies did not look at Africans.”
By increasing access to this deep well of information, 54gene hopes to help create better medical solutions.
That’s a pitch that has investors quickly hopping aboard. 54gene is a very young company, only founded in 2019. In that short time, the company raised $4.5 million in a seed round and $15 million in Series A. With a massive pool of data at its fingertips that could have major consequences on global medicine, 54gene is the philosopher in Plato’s Cave, returned to a small world stuck in its ways armed with a universe of possibilities.
54gene’s growth shows the scale of the opportunity it has tapped into. In 2020 alone, the Lagos and Washington-based company’s workforce has grown by 81 employees - a 225% increase in just six months. 54gene has managed to grow to a size that many startups take years to achieve in a fraction of the time.
54gene’s timing was impeccable. Breaking into the scene just before COVID-19 became a pandemic, 54gene was prepared with a solution to many of the concerns now facing the medical community. It is already involved in testing services and offers a mountain of data that could help with development of vaccines and treatments, making it easy to see why investors have quickly taken to the young company.
CEO Abasi Ene-Obong is refreshingly honest about the company goals as well. The cliche of the startup that says it’s “making the world a better place” is real and rampant, and 54gene sets itself apart by actually offering something that could positively impact the lives of patients across the planet, and by being clear about its goals as a profit-driven company.
“I think [people invested in us] because they understood the potential for good. But one of the things I’d like to say is that impact investment is not the same as charity,” Ene-Obong said. “As a company founder and CEO, I want to make money. I want to be profitable. That is one of the metrics I’ll judge myself by. But at the same time, I want to do good.”
Ene-Obong and 54gene are certainly on their way to accomplishing both. It is one of the fastest-growing health disruptors in the world, and has the potential to make waves across the healthcare industry on a global scale. Years down the road, you may find yourself taking a treatment and experiencing no side effects. It may be thanks to 54gene that you end up giving it little to no thought.