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The company decodes African DNA for disease control



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Pharmaceutical companies often manufacture drugs only for the profitable Western market

Black Africans are at a disadvantage in terms of drug treatments because they account for only 2% of the genetic samples used for drug research, but a new Nigerian-based genome company wants to change that.

This lack of genetic studies on different populations also has implications for the risk prediction of diseases around the world, as evidenced by a scientific paper published in March by US academics.

According to Abasi Ene-Obong, the founder and CEO of the biotech startup 54gene, black Africans and black people, are genetically more diverse than any other population in the world combined, making their genetic information a "huge resource needs to be developed ".

a genetic research laboratory in Nigeria's largest city of Lagos, from where his team plans to analyze around 40,000 DNA samples by the end of 201

9 to reach 100,000 in the next 12 months.

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Media Caption Could the African DNA found help to cure sickle cells?

Dr. Ene-Obong says that knowing the role of genetics in disease will be helpful in developing relevant treatment.

"Drugs are not even made for Africans, they are not clinically tested with an African population, so what you have are lower-potency drugs for African populations and poorer safety profiles," he told the BBC.

] New medicines also take time to reach Africa – sometimes between 15 and 20 years old, says Dr. Ene-Obong.

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Abasi Ene-Obong (C) has assembled a team of the world's leading medical researchers

Pharmaceutical companies often manufacture drugs for the profitable Western market, and the generic variants are only available in Africa after these companies have lost their patents.

Dr. Ene-Obong says the possibility of overcoming this delay is to improve access to genomic data of the African population in order to foster comprehensive scientific research.

everyone else as well, "he says.

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His biotech company intends to investigate diseases such as sickle cells, which primarily affect Black Africans.

Dr. Ene Obong says it will also do research into the genetic role of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dementia and others.

The start-up is currently working with hospitals in Nigeria to provide DNA samples

"We do not interfere with patient care, but with their approval … we either collect spit, blood or body tissues for analysis," said Dr. Ene-Obong.

The company is not just in it interested in collecting and storing samples in a biobank, but also improving health care in the communities where they work.

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January, the The growth of 54 genes was rapid. In July, the start-up received $ 4.5 million (£ 3.5 million) start-up funding from investors.

Most of the money will be used to expand the laboratory in Lagos, hiring new employees and building a grid independent power supply due to the notorious power outages in Nigeria.

  Abasi Ene-Obong

54gene

I understand it as a "reverse brain drain", a kind of "brain gain" that brings together talented people who have worked in places where they provide first-class medical care.

Dr. The pharmaceutical sector launches 54gene, which currently consists of more than 30 researchers who have worked at leading medical facilities in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"I see it as a reversed brain drain, a kind of brain growth that brings together talented people who have worked in places where they provide first-class medical care."

"Our goal is to make sure the diagnosis and […] The same biotech company named after 54 countries in Africa also plans to expand its activities on the continent through partnerships with pharmaceuticals and research programs on the continent

"We are not just trying to be a Nigerian company … we are in talks with countries in East Africa, West Africa and South Africa. "

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However, he is worried about regulations or their absence in some African countries.

" We comply with the required laws, but as you know, sometimes there are regulations that are unclear. That's why we're always on alert to make sure we comply with all required laws. "

The Company is committed to complying with data protection regulations such as the Portability and Accountability of Health Insurance (Hipa) laws in the United States and the European Data Protection Directive (GDPR).

He says that all patient data is anonymised and stored in encrypted systems.

Companies that develop drugs or diagnostic tests pay 54 percent for collecting, anonymizing and aggregating genetic data, Dr. Ene-Obong explains business strategy

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The company plans to launch several laboratories across the continent

There are several governments in Africa, such as Kenya and Uganda, where the authorities have proposed mass-gathering DNA data to fight crime.

The data collected by 54gene could therefore be valuable to the government and other private organizations.

Dr. Ene-Obong says the company has no interest in sharing the information collected.

"We were approached by insurance companies to see if they could use the data to change their offerings, but we rejected them."

The company would, however, be willing to release "Big Picture Data", which the company said Government could help to understand the status of the health of their population.

"Information they can use for planning and resource allocation," he explains.

He says that he is determined not only as an "African company," but as a global biotech company.


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