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Startup 54gene Gets $4.5M in Seed Funding to Build First Pan-African Biobank

NEW YORK – Startup 54gene, which plans to focus on genomics of Africans, said this week that it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding.

Investors in the firm include Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Better Ventures, KdT Ventures, Hack VC, Pioneer Fund, and Techammer.

The company, founded earlier this year and based in San Francisco and in Lagos, Nigeria, plans to address the fact that only 2 percent of human DNA samples used in pharmaceutical research today are from Africans or those of African ancestry, who have much greater genetic diversity than other human populations.

To change this, 54gene – the number stands for the 54 countries of Africa – plans to build what the firm says will be the world's first and largest pan-African biobank. According to Chief Commercial Officer Jessica Rich, the goal is to obtain samples from 40,000 participants by the end of this year and to expand to additional African countries after that in order to gather approximately 200,000 samples by the end of 2020.

The firm then plans to partner with pharmaceutical companies to analyze the samples and, in some cases, to conduct joint research.