- TitleFounder and CEO
For too long, Africa has been left off the map of medical progress. Despite the continent’s vast population and its rich genetic diversity, medical research and drug development there have largely been limited to “helicopter science,” in which data and medical samples are ferried off for study in Western countries. Individuals of African ancestry account for less than 3% of those included in critical genome-wide association studies, which help determine links between given genes and disease. Ene-Obong, a Nigerian with a masters’ in business and management as well as human molecular genetics, a Ph.D. in cancer biology, and experience working with health care organizations at home and in the U.S. and U.K., is working to change that with his pan-African biobank.
54gene, which raised $15 million through a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation–backed venture fund, is hoping to “spur a biotech revolution” on the continent, collecting and analyzing the data that can advance discovery and relevant drug development as well as building the talent and infrastructure needed to power a homegrown industry. Ene-Obong has built relationships with researchers across Africa; the company has biobanked tens of thousands of Africans’ genomes. As with many companies, COVID-19 has brought some change: When the crisis started, 54gene provided equipment to public labs in Nigeria, as well as testing, setting up molecular diagnostic labs across states within the country.