Pan-African genomics startup, 54gene has launched an initiative to facilitate translational genomics research by African scientists, it said on Tuesday. The establishment, African Centre for Translational Genomics (ACTG), will empower the next generation of genomic scientists in the continent by providing grants, fellowships, internships, and training for medical researchers, trainees, and students.

The ACTG is also expected to facilitate precision medicine across the continent as well as “harness translational genetic research across Africa” according to Founder and CEO Dr Abasi Ene-Obong. And in an inaugural effort towards achieving its mandate, the center is already funding its first study under a consortium – the Non-Communicable Diseases – Genetic Heritage Study (NCD-GHS).

Over 100,000 Nigerians will participate in the study, 54gene said, which seeks to understand the genetic basis of the highly prevalent non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Nigeria such as cancers, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, chronic kidney and sickle cell disease, among others.

“The NCD-GHS study is our pilot effort under the ACTG that has the potential to rewrite the playbook of genomics research,” Ene-Obong said, adding that African scientists will be “placed at the forefront of new drug discoveries for conditions that affect the health of not only Nigerians but greater Africa and the world.”

L-R: Dr Abasi Ene-Obong, CEO of 54gene; Professor Babatunde Salako, Director General of the NIMR; Dr Omolola Salako, Consultant Oncologist, College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL); Dr. Segun Fatumo, Assistant Professor of Genetic Epidemiology & Bioinformatics at LSHTM and Professor Oyekanmi Nash, Director of Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics Department at NABDA.

In implementing the project, the consortium will have a steering committee led by prominent Nigerian genetic scientists and medical research professionals who see the coming together of leading scientists as a welcome development for leveraging talent to promote genomics research scholarship.

“Partnerships of this nature could really change the future of healthcare in Africa and other global populations,” said Dr Segun Fatumo, Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and one of the members of the steering committee.

Highlighting the relevance of the study, Fatumo noted that genomic medicine remains an important tool to provide some useful insights into the high burden of non-communicable diseases in Africa. According to him, the study will enable an assessment of the burden, spectrum and genetic determinants of NCDs, as well as foster the development of new treatments that will benefit people living in Africa as well as people of African descent around the world.

“I think this is our opportunity to reliably determine the distribution and prevalence of a range of NCDs in Nigeria … Our findings may inform public health strategies and programs in Nigeria and other African countries,” he added.

Moreover, the consortium will “provide an enabling environment and resource for Nigeria-based scientists to develop their research capacity and skillset; as well as contribute to the ongoing efforts to improve genomics training and research in the country,” added Dr Omolola Salako, Lecturer at College of Medicine, University of Lagos and another member of the committee.

Other members of the steering committee include the Director-General of Nigeria Institute of Medical Research [NIMR], Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako; the Director of National Biotechnology Development Agency’s Centre for Genomics Research and Innovation [NABDA-CGRI], Prof Oyekanmi Nash; the CEO of 54gene.

“Our collaboration with scientists… as a consortium, is a highly welcome initiative which we believe will be a rewarding and mutually beneficial experience for all parties,” Ene-Obong said. “For 54gene specifically, the opportunity for us to contribute to a broader national agenda for genomics research is both inspiring and humbling, and we are committed to ensuring its success.”

54gene is an African research, services, and development company located in Nigeria and the United States. Founded in 2019 by Dr Ene-Obong, it aims to improve understanding of the world’s most genetically diverse population. The company uses human genetic data from diverse African populations, to improve the development, availability, and efficacy of medical products that will prove beneficial to Africans and the wider global population.

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