Episode #345: Africa Startup Series – Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, 54gene, “There Really Hasn’t Been Human Genomics Infrastructure In Africa”

Episode #345: Africa Startup Series – Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, 54gene, “There Really Hasn’t Been Human Genomics Infrastructure In Africa”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest: Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong is the founder and CEO of 54gene, a health technology company advancing the state of healthcare through large scale discovery and translational research, advanced molecular diagnostics, and clinical programs for the benefit of Africans and the global population.

Date Recorded: 8/4/2021     |     Run-Time: 42:58


Summary: In today’s episode, we’re talking about genetics. Less than 3% of genomic data represented in research is from African populations and Abasi is changing that. He walks us the origin story of the company and the ins and outs of what it’s like to both gather and analyze genetic data. Then Abasi shares the process of partnering with pharmaceutical companies and what the long-term prospects of the company are.


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Links from the Episode:

  • 1:19 – Intro
  • 2:05 – Welcome to our guest, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong
  • 3:03 – Overview of 54gene
  • 5:24 – Why there has been a lack of research on African genetic data
  • 18:00 – The initial inspiration that lead to founding 54Gene
  • 21:21 – Fundraising and how the business model has changed over time
  • 28:08 – Operational, regulatory, and execution challenges
  • 21:13 – Milestones he’d like to hit over the next few years
  • 33:28 – Partnering with pharmaceutical companies
  • 36:49 – The most memorable moment across this journey
  • 39:18 – Learn more about Abasi; 54gene.com; Twitter @weare54gene; Instagram @weare54gene

 

Transcript of Episode 345:

Welcome Message: Welcome to “The Meb Faber Show” where the focus is on helping you grow and preserve your wealth. Join us as we discuss the craft of investing and uncover new and profitable ideas, all to help you grow wealthier and wiser. Better investing starts here.

Disclaimer: Meb Faber is the co-founder and chief investment officer at Cambria Investment Management. Due to industry regulations, he will not discuss any of Cambria’s funds on this podcast. All opinions expressed by podcast participants are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of Cambria Investment Management or its affiliates. For more information, visit cambriainvestments.com.

Meb: What’s up, y’all? Super cool show today. Our guest is the founder of 54gene, a company pioneering genomic research across the African continent. In today’s show, we’re talking all about genetics. Did you know less than 3% of genomic data in research databases is from African populations? Our guest today is trying to change that. He walks us through the origin story of the company and the ins and outs of what it’s like to both gather and analyze genetic data. Then he shares the process of partnering with pharmaceutical companies and what the long-term prospects of the company are. If you enjoy this episode, be sure to stay tuned for our special series on the African startup scene in the near future. Please enjoy this episode with 54gene’s Abasi Ene-Obong. Abasi, welcome to the show.

Abasi: Thank you, Meb. How are you doing?

Meb: I’m great. Where do we find you today in the early days of August 2021?

Abasi: Today I am in Washington, DC, but I am actually going back to or going to Nigeria over the weekend. So kind of shuttle between the U.S. and Africa. Currently in Nigeria, we started out with Nigeria. Washington, DC, is our headquarters. So we have two headquarters, one in Nigeria, one in Washington, DC. We’re now in the process of also expanding to a few other African countries.

Meb: I was a little nervous when I rang you up that you were actually going to be in Nigeria and who knows what time it is with like 2:00 in the morning or whatever now. I did one podcast with a guy in Thailand at about 3:00 in the morning, so I felt bad. When I first heard about your company, we talk a lot about my investing journey on the podcast, and I’ve invested in a lot of earlier stage startups. And there’s only been about a dozen that have come across the plate that is an idea that to me is so obvious, but also so interesting where I thought in my head, “Why doesn’t this exist?” And just waiting for someone to do it, and that’s you guys. Congratulations. Why don’t you tell everyone a little 10,000-foot overview of what 54gene is and what you guys do?

Abasi: I mean, the way to look at 54gene is that we are an African genomics company. And we’re genomics company that are deriving insights from doing genomics work out of the African continent. And you can lay out lots of different applications on top of that, right? Because it’s sort of the building blocks to discovery work in the pharmaceutical industry space, you know, where you do target ID identification work, which is what leads to the discovery and development of new medicines. You know, that’s in genomics kind of infrastructure could also support lots of different applications, including molecular diagnostics, precision medicine clinical trials. And in our case, you know, we happen to be the leader in this space in Africa. Africa as many of you or most of you know, we’ll be about 1.5 billion people over the next few years. Fifty-four countries, which is why we call ourselves 54gene.

It’s the birthplace of humanity, has the most genetically diverse populations across the entire world. And so because of that, it has embedded in those populations lots of insights, potential insights that could improve healthcare, not for Africans and for the general world population, regardless of ethnicity. And so prior to 54gene, there really hasn’t been genomics infrastructure or human genomics infrastructure in Africa. A company was set up to kind of lead that charge, build the infrastructure and begin to do very interesting precision medicine work in Africa but in partnership with global companies, irrespective of geography.

Meb: It’s funny because if you rewind 20 years when I just graduated university, they were just finishing sequencing the genome. So Celera and Craig Venter, the Genome Project, and I was a biomedical engineering student. And I was joking with you before because my first stop out of college was in DC where you are. And my roommate was an African guy from Burkina Faso. But if you remember, there was a little biotech company by the name of deCODE Genetics, and they were focused on this Icelandic population. And was a big story on Wall Street and they raised a bunch of money and existed for a long time, but it was always a curiosity to me why there wasn’t 50 deCODE Genetics, or why there wasn’t companies doing this all around the world. And so kick the question kind of back to you is part of that, that it just take 20 years to developing the sequencing and the cost to come down. Was it because there just wasn’t a focus on investors? Why did now become the time for this really happening with you guys?

Abasi: Part of it is the improvements in technology. You know, when deCODE was starting out, it cost a few thousand bucks to sequence a gene. Now you can do it for a few hundred bucks. There are now even cheaper technologies where you could do genotyping with imputation, you could impute a genome and that could still be quite valuable and that could be done for the low hundreds. And so, yeah, so we’ve had a technology acceleration, which makes these sort of businesses cheaper or more affordable rather to do. That doesn’t mean that it’s not still capital-intensive, but it’s definitely less capital-intensive as it was back in the days of deCODE. But there is a lot of expertise and technicality or technical skills they are going to build in a company like this, or like ours, such that, you know, somebody can’t like really wake up and just start doing the work, right? Because you have to be thinking about the ethics, you have to be thinking about the infrastructure, you have to be thinking about, you know, the lab scientists, the data scientists.

We’ve also come to a point where, you know, we know more now about genetics and we have better ways of identifying those insights in large-scale datasets. Now, I think sort of what happened was most of the focus went to populations outside of Africa. Like you mentioned, deCODE in Iceland, you know, Genomic Medicine Ireland in Ireland. There are, of course, a few others, the UK Biobank in the UK, for example. And a few years ago, emerged that because most of that focus had gone to ex-African nations or geographies, that the world’s genomics datasets were mostly white, mostly Caucasian, and that wasn’t giving us a good picture of what was happening in the human biological system, right? Because you sort of need to study or understand how diseases affect different populations to understand how diseases affect us as humans. What you find in this space is that sometimes discoveries you find in one population actually can be translated in another population, right? So that you able to develop or discover insights in Africa does not mean that, you know, that discovery only works for Africans. Some of these discoveries work across the board, right? Because it takes us back to the genetic basis of why…you know, or the causality of a disease. What happened was while all that development work was happening outside of Africa, nothing was going on within the continent. The capabilities were not being built. And then recently as well, a few years ago, as some of the data from those early projects started coming out, we started seeing that African genetic datasets were very, you know, valuable in terms of the insights they could provide.

So studies like the 1000 Genomes Project run by, you know, the U.S. government came out comparing multiple ethnic populations across the world. Findings showing that, you know, African populations had the most variant site by genome and had very good genomic architecture to enable things like fine-mapping, you know, to drill down to the causality of a disease. It’s become clear that the future of genomics cannot be complete without doing genomics in Africa. Some of the challenges or some of the things right now I’m trying to solve for is how do you do genomics in Africa using a model that actually improves the African ecosystem and gives back to the people, right? To use it as a way to build the life-size capabilities within the continent while also contributing to the global life science industry.

Meb: Expand on that, unpack that because I think that was a key differentiator that I think is really interesting that you guys are doing. And also obvious from my standpoint and potentially a much better model and scalable because it starts to get the incentives aligned from a lot of the parties. Tell us a little more.

Abasi: Prior to 54gene launching, there were studies that were carried out in Africa. Studies led by U.S., UK, foreign institutions. Typically what happened was you would have African scientists carry out studies, but essentially, they would get the samples. Samples would be shipped to the U.S. where they’ll be sequenced and all the work will be done excluding this scientist in Africa, right? So the scientists were not even in some cases participating in the publications, much less the intellectual property being generated. And so there wasn’t much of a capability building and development exercise happening on the African continent. Our model was that, you know, we were going to do this work in Africa. We’re going to as much as possible work with Africans in the space. So let’s make sure that we had African stakeholders involved in the work. And so for us, you know, we started…we decided that as a principal, we would not want to ship samples outside of the continent. That would force the building of capabilities like sequencing labs across Africa, which could then in addition to supporting research support clinical diagnosis.

So there is a hidden fact that most people don’t know, but, you know, most people in Africa in order to get tested for even cancer in the clinical setting with some of the most basic cancer diagnostic tests, they either have to travel outside of the continent or have a doctor ship their samples to a lab outside of the continent. First of all, we have to close that gap. And so we set up, you know, one of the first and I believe it’s the first private sequencing facility in Africa. We partnered with Illumina, for example, to bring that capability into the continent. And we’ve, you know, as a result of that, you know, trained and are employing Africans out of our Nigerian office. We’re now in the process of setting up additional sequencing labs across the continent so that they can be clusters of a life science ecosystem. You know, if you can’t do the data generation in today’s world of data science, then you can’t really even begin to build a life science process. So that is kind of what we started doing first of all. We’ve come up with a memorandum within our company, what we call our commitment to Africa. So basically principles that govern the way we do business and show that, you know, Africans are benefiting from the work that we do.

Meb: Where are going to be the next country stops? So you’ve got it planned out yet?

Abasi: We do have it planned out yet. We haven’t announced any yet or we are currently working on about three countries.

Meb: What’s the sort of practical day-to-day of…like, how do you guys go about collecting these? How many you’re at this point if you’re willing to share. Are people for the most part willing, excited, nervous about getting involved? And lastly, we’d love to hear you talk a little bit about the plan to reinvest part of the proceeds or eventual revenue in some of the communities that you’re participating in.

Abasi: I just want to stress that we are not in the sample business. You know, we are very careful to not be in that business. For us, it’s really about carrying out studies that help us understand how diseases affect Africans differently. Are the drivers of breast cancer, for example, the same in African women as they are in Caucasian women? Are the frequencies of the mutation, are they the same? Should you be treating all patients as if they were homogeneous where they might actually be heterogeneous? You know, and so the drugs that you use for one population, you might need to change for another population. I mean, that’s precision medicine at its core. But in order to do that, we need people to be able to volunteer for studies. And so we have partnerships with hospitals, public hospitals mostly in Africa where, you know, people volunteer to participate in our studies.

We make sure that before any study, you know, the necessary ethical approvals are gotten. So we make sure that we have multiple ethical approvals from the different issuing bodies we partner with, you know, the hospitals themselves, the doctors on the ground, and people volunteer and give us consent to use some of their data or samples for studies. We don’t sell data. Our goal is to commercialize insights from the studies, right? So if in the process of studying breast cancer, for example, we find targets that could have therapeutic potential, then we seek to develop these targets into drugs. And by so doing, you know, we’re building an intellectual property capability on the continent and making sure that those deals that we then sign with pharma companies have a give-back model. You know, the other sad fact is when drugs are launched globally, when you live in Africa, is those drugs get into the continent 10 to 20 years after the launch in the U.S., right?

And so they usually come into Africa as a generic drug. For a drug to be generic, it has to have lost its, you know, patent, gotten to the end of its patent lifecycle. It’s almost like people on the African continent are getting hand out the drugs that are being discarded more or less. And so we believe that by having the African…you know, having an African life science ecosystem, you have people on the table who could also negotiate and speak for the continent’s future in ensuring that lifesaving drugs come back to the continent as and when they are available, not when the pharma companies that own them have moved on from them. So that’s very important to us. And, you know, in the process of developing this, of course, there is a commercial angle to it. We hope that we can generate revenue, or we are looking to invest at least about 5% of our proceeds from our drug discovery business back into the ecosystem. And the ways we are looking at doing this is to help improve healthcare delivery, that’s one part, but also to build out the skill set, you know, capability building. Because we want to make sure there are all the companies like 54gene that can create intellectual property on the African continent as well. And the way to do it is to make sure that the people who can do that have the necessary support in terms of training, certifications, and all to do that work in Africa.

Meb: This is a pretty ambitious project. You guys have been at it for a few years. What was the initial inspiration? When was there a moment in time where Abasi was just, you know, having a coffee or a beer and saying, “This is a cool idea?” Do you remember? Was it a specific moment? Was it a period?

Abasi: This idea dates back many, many years. Beginnings of the millennia when I was in university, I remember going to a genetics class and, you know, there was a lot that we’re just learning about genetics at the time. And I saw how using genetics, we could find cures to previously incurable diseases. I remember in one of my first classes, we were talking about Huntington’s disease and how there was no cure for Huntington’s disease. And I thought to myself, “Well, I want to do something where I can bring some of these types of cures to the market, you know, for people to really…you know, like, to be cured.” And so it started really from there, but this was all the way back in 2000, I still had to go through my process. I think the other landmark was by the time I was finishing my PhD in Cancer Biology at the University of London, and this was in 2013, I had thought to myself that I wanted to start a healthcare company.

The way I thought about it was I want to start a healthcare company in Africa, but that was global. I didn’t see why you couldn’t have a healthcare company originating from Africa that couldn’t be on par with any other healthcare company. And we’d seen… This has happened in other markets like China and the rest. Like with BeiGene, for example, being a company that started in China, which has grown now to be like a $70 billion valued pharma company. I then moved to the U.S. in 2013, went to business school, started working for IMS Health at the time. You know, IMS Health, what I was doing for IMS Health was I was using their data assets to solve problems for big pharma. Right? So what countries do you launch drugs in? You know, what’s the reimbursement system? How do you want to tell your commercial operations, etc.?

One of the things I realized was as we would consult and tell these companies what to do, Africa made up of 54 countries was being grouped as rest of the world. In other words, you don’t need to create a strategy for the rest of the world. Create a strategy for U.S, EU5, maybe the BRIC countries. And then a few others, but then rest of the world, it gets there when it gets there. And, you know, I felt that one of the reasons for that was the lack of data coming out from Africa. Because if you don’t really see the data, you don’t understand the markets. And so I’m not like throwing shade at any company here. I think that it’s a platform type issue, a chicken and egg issue. You need to have credible players in an ecosystem and you need to be able to get data back because that’s sort of what informs your strategies. All of this coupled together made me decide in 2019 to start 54gene. So we’ve been in existence for about two and a half years.

Meb: Did you just say, “Look, I’m going to fund this very ambitious biotech idea out of my own pocket?” Did you start to scrape together some friends and family? Did you do some institutional fundraising? How’d you go about it? And was the initial business model the same as the one you guys have developed now?

Abasi: I didn’t know it was very ambitious when I started. I wanted to ignore that. I was just saying that to a few of my colleagues today that if I knew how ambitious this was, I don’t know if I would have started it. But that drives me. I see the mission behind the story. Yes, I see it can be a very valuable business, but I also see that it can be a difference maker. Had I known what I was about to take on, maybe I would have looked for an easier idea. I moved back to Nigeria. I was working with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago, and I decided I was going to go back to Nigeria and start that African healthcare company. So I went back to look at the market from the inside out to see what the gaps were. And one of the things that was quite clear was the lack of infrastructure.

And it just seemed like any of the business ideas I had were hindered by the lack of infrastructure. I flirted around a few ideas, or I decided to apply to Y Combinator in late 2018. And I told myself if I was going to get into Y Combinator and, you know, have to pitch to leading Silicon Valley VCs, I might as well go for my most ambitious idea. We got into Y Combinator, started in January of 2019. And it was there that we got the name 54gene. The business has morphed. We’ve moved through different stages from thinking about it from, okay maybe if we got samples, you know, that was at the very rudimentary phase, that other people could do the work. To thinking about it from the perspective that if we built the capabilities in-house, then we could actually do the work and develop the IP.

Towards the end of 2019, we started embarking on a journey as a company to build the capabilities in-house. That meant pausing a little bit on some of our potential easy commercial deals where we could have sold data licenses and all. Because we said, one, this is not the business we want to be in. Two, in doing that, we will only be competing with our ability to, you know, vertically integrate into the discovery space. So we kind of had this focus on building these capabilities. We now have our own labs where we do most of our work. We can do the sequencing. We are bringing on proteomics into our labs in Africa, as well as all the other omics that you might think about. So we have a big infrastructure there. We have our own data science bioinformatics team, which started this year, early this year. We have our translational biology team. We just recruited somebody to build out that team, our VP Drug Discovery.

We’ve gone through different phases. We are now sort of in the process of beginning to generate a ton of data from the samples we have in our biobank because now we are capitalized enough to do that and begin to do the discovery. And some of that capitalization is through VC firms. And we are also about to bring on non-dilutive funding through pharmaceutical partnerships. As of last year, we had brought in about $20 million in funding. This year, we’ve brought in some more funding. It hasn’t been announced, but we’re still in the process of bringing in some more. We think that we are just about to hit that inflection point because now all that data in the samples…all the samples are beginning to be converted into data, you know, which is where the insights begin to be generated from. And, you know, we hope at this point that like the sky is the limit that we can get into great partnerships that allow us as a company to build value within the company, but also to build value within our ecosystem.

Meb: All the easy work’s done. Now, it’s time to get to all the hard stuff. Tell me a little bit about the conversations, because the funny thing about certain ideas, when they find that sort of magical product market fit or service market fit, whatever it may be, it feels like it almost just needed someone to do it. To me, was the experience talking to a lot of these investors over the past couple years, what was the experience like? Was it you having to explain it to a bunch of people and everyone’s saying, “No, I don’t get it?” Or was it immediately obvious with certain groups across? What was the whole process like? And I imagine even more challenging post and during COVID too.

Abasi: Yes. And so we’ve seen a mixed bag. We’ve seen people who are like, “Duh, like, this makes sense.” And we’ve seen those who have been like, “Well, it makes sense, but we just want a bit more proof points.” You know, one of the things we have seen is tremendous amount of interest from just about every…quite a few of the big names. We’ve brought in some funding. You know, so it’s at each stage bringing in the right partners for each stage. Of course, we are an African company that inherently has certain risks just by defining yourself as an African company, which is something we have to deal with or we want to be defined that way, and we don’t mind being defined that way because we don’t think that that should have to be in today’s world if it had to be like a disadvantage. You know, we see it as an advantage in this space. And so yes, they are firms that have not invested in Africa before. And so for those types of reasons, they may not want to make a commitment because they don’t understand the space. We also have those who understand us who have not and are happy to make the commitment. So it’s been a mixed bag, but what I’ll say is that we’ve been able to attract funding from very reputable VC firms. And, you know, even more firms are beginning to line up. Should we hit our own internal matrixes, we believe we could potentially even get to the public markets within a reasonable timeframe. So that’s something we are looking forward to.

Meb: It seems like, certainly, the mood has shifted a bit around the entire African ecosystem with the number of acquisitions going on, and certainly FinTech has been a hot space. But to me, at least from afar, it seems like a certain acceleration in companies at scale too that are really starting to see some success either partnering or doing it alone on the international scene. Talk to me a little bit about the challenges of actually executing where operationally speaking, one country soon expanding to a handful, half dozen, dozen at some point, all that presumably have some different regulatory legal bioethical rules. How much of a barrier struggle is that? Is it not as much as you thought? Is it way more than you thought?

Abasi: Our goal is not necessarily to be in every country. To your point, yes, it’s a very heterogeneous landscape across Africa. But we think that where there are a combination of factors, political will, good regulatory systems, good talents, those are some of the places, you know, that are of interest for us. We’re in the process of that expansion. What we have seen is we see countries asking us to actually settle in them. So that has been beneficial for us, that we don’t really have to pitch to many countries because they’ve kind of learned about us and they want us to come into those countries. We also see our involvement in these countries as sort of being a precursor to help with some of their regulatory developments, etc. Because to be honest, you don’t really have companies that have created new novel drugs out of Africa.

So there is going to be a learning associated with that. We have very good partners who can help with that. We think that, you know, there’s a hunger now. The truth is COVID has actually pushed the needle in that direction because more and more African governments and people are beginning to say, “We want these43 technologies. We want to be good in R&D. We want to have these capabilities.” And so that has been helpful to some of the conversations we are having. It’s a highly regulated business and we wanted to stay highly regulated because that protects everybody up. First protects us and protects the people. It hasn’t been that much of a challenge, but again, our plan is not necessarily to get into every country to the extent that governments…and there’s 54 countries in Africa. And to the extent that the government and the other economic and ecosystem factors align, then yes, some of these countries, we would want to be in.

Meb: 2020 summertime, as we kind of look to the horizon, you guys have been at it for a few years, accomplished a lot, my goodness, since Y Combinator through a couple rounds of funding. Walk us through, like, as you look to the horizon, next three years, next five years, you come back on “The Meb Faber Show.” We’ll probably do it via hologram by that point, 2025. And we get to reflect on all the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur, the agony and ecstasy. But what are sort of the main way points that you’re excited about where this company may look in say three years? Because the biotech world and healthcare is notoriously slow space. You know, many drugs take over a decade to develop, but we walk out three, five years as you guys, what are some of the main way points, time horizon you guys would like to see?

Abasi: We are currently in the process of evaluating key partnerships. When you look at some of the companies like the Genentechs that have done this before that started as platform companies. What have been some of the strategies that platform companies have used to kind of grow and survive? For us, we understand that having chief partnerships that bring in capabilities we don’t have, and that we cannot build at the moment. No, are we looking to build at key? I think we are in a place where we are now having those conversations with a few potential partners that we would be collaborating with to bring hopefully physician medicine future together, you know, around identifying new drugs, validating those targets, bringing in interesting chemistries and modalities that don’t necessarily have to be ours, but, you know, because we are not necessarily invested in that yet. But there are a few key partners that have great modalities and created an economic model that provides funding for the company. So that yes, we may not have a drug within three to five years, but that does not mean the company is not getting R&D revenue.

Meb: The way that typically works is like a yearly license payment with the potential kicker on eventual drug sales. What’s an ideal arrangement for you guys?

Abasi: So let’s give an example. You could partner with a company around a particular type of medicines. You know, let me not call out a particular chemistry. Do you want to call out anyone?

Meb: We’re in LA. You can say Amgen, they’re close by. My laundry list of biotech companies I interviewed at before going the finance rail is lengthy with zero success. So I’m happy to call out any of them, Amazon, like 10 hours of interviews for their internal biz dev arm, my God. But thankfully, I didn’t have to move to Thousand Oaks. I would have been miserable there. Anyway, here I find myself in LA.

Abasi: So I don’t want to mention any names so that I’m not, you know, kind of signaling or seem to be signaling that we’re doing something with a company. But okay, so let’s say we partner with pharma Company X and Company X has Y chemistry, right? Y chemistry could be, let’s say, ASO, RNAi type chemistry, or it could be small molecules or monoclonal antibodies, just one of them. So the sorts of partnerships that we are currently bringing together are the ones that allow us from our own dataset find interesting targets. In other words, targets that can be causal that if you can modulate could result in a change in phenotype. Our dataset and our internal bioinformatics team can identify that this gene or this protein, if you modulate it with the right chemistry, could lead to a cure or better management of a symptom.

Now we do that work, but then the pharma Company X brings their chemistry or their compound that can then walk on that target and effect that change. And so Company X is paying us upfront, right, to begin the research work. And a few milestones are set out that if you hit certain milestones, we’ll pay you X additional money per milestone you hit. And then, you know, if we make it all the way to a viable drug, we’ll pay you royalties. It’s a combination of, “Here’s some money upfront. Here are milestones you should…you know, we agreed to that you should hit. Here is the kicker at the end.” So these are some of the types of conversations we are having at the moment. We think that, you know, we can bring in a good ecosystem of partners to do that work with that will help fund some of our work as a company, help us build additional capabilities using hopefully non-dilutive capital. That gets us closer to our goal of, you know, who knows, one day becoming a potential Genentech. You know, talking about three to five years. So we think that we can potentially start onboarding these types of partnerships within the next 12 months. Should those partnerships begin to work, should we begin to find very interesting findings as we hope we would, then we could make a case to bring that to the market, the public markets within that timeframe as well.

Meb: As you look back on this journey, it’s been a short one, but pretty intense. What’s been the most memorable moment? Good, bad, in between, anything come to mind?

Abasi: Sometimes I feel like a lot has happened, but it’s been very good. It’s been rewarding. It’s the kind of thing that if you do and it succeeds, you know you’ve contributed. You know, you’ve made a difference. And so I’m driven to make sure that we are making a difference. The people that have become aligned to this vision make it enjoyable, make it worthwhile. I’m building friendships that will last forever in the process of doing this work. And so that has been rewarding. And for me being born in Nigeria, you know, and starting my education in Nigeria and seeing that I didn’t really have…like, there were things I didn’t have access to at the time and being able to now be the person to bring these things.

I’ll talk personally about my dad. So my dad is a professor, he’s retired now, but he actually is a geneticist, a plant geneticist. Was educated in Nigeria and the UK and came back and has been one of the people who has trained quite a bit of geneticists in Nigeria. But, you know, he had to do it in a system that didn’t really allow him getting through the practical elements of the work, have the labs to train in. And one of the things that I’m happy about seeing is, you know, my dad is alive to see that his son is sort of bringing this back home. For me, just knowing that that element is there is…I mean, I think we all, whether we know it or not, we try to please our parents even subconsciously. I’m happy, I’m happy for the journey.

Meb: Ninety percent of the reason I do the podcast is for my mom who is our number one listener. I can relate to that statement. You probably don’t have much spare time as a founder, entrepreneur. What do you do in your spare time? Are you a footballer? What sort of hobbies, interests do you have?

Abasi: I used to be a basketballer. I used to play basketball more than football. And when you say football, do you mean soccer or football?

Meb: Yeah. That’s soccer.

Abasi: I try to read. I try to spend time with family. I like music, but we can’t go for shows anymore because of COVID, you know.

Meb: Knock on wood, hopefully soon. Abasi, let’s say people want to follow y ‘all’s adventure. You got a big pharma listeners or big investors, sovereign wealth funds, everything in between wants to reach out, track what you guys are up to, what’s the best place to follow along the story?

Abasi: LinkedIn, 54gene. Instagram, Twitter, we are 54gene. I know my name is long, Abasi Ene-Obong. Abasi, A-B-A-S-I, Ene-Obong, E-N-E-O-B-O-N-G. That you’ll find me using that on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. Even on our website, there are lots of places to reach out to me on.

Meb: Abasi, it’s been a pleasure. Looking forward to following your journey. Thanks so much joining today.

Abasi: Thank you, Meb. It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Meb: Podcast listeners, we’ll post show notes to today’s conversation at mebfaber.com/podcast. If you love the show, if you hate it, shoot us feedback at feedback@themebfabershow.com. We love to read the reviews. Please review us on iTunes and subscribe to the show anywhere good podcasts are found. Thanks for listening friends and good investing.