Economic potential of African genomics (2)

However, notable efforts are being made to map the African gene pool. Institutions and laboratories such as 54gene (Nigeria), African Center of Excellence in Infectious Disease Genomics, Redeemer University (Nigeria), Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town (South Africa), African Computational Genomics Research Group (TACG) in the MRC Research Unit/ UVRI & LSHTM Uganda (Uganda), CDC Institute for Pathogen Genomics Research (Ethiopia), Center for Proteomics and Genomics Research (South Africa), and funding H3Africa Africa Wits-INDEPTH Partnership for Genomics Research (South Africa) are just such initiatives.

In collaboration with hospitals in Nigeria, 54gene, set up by Abasi Ene-Obong in 2019, aims to sequence the DNA of at least 100,000 samples of sputum, blood or body tissues of willing patients, with plans to expand to other regions across African countries. 54gene generates revenue by providing this genetic data to global pharmaceutical companies looking to produce more effective, customized drugs.

African genomic data will also reduce the time lag between new drugs reaching the global market and Africans getting them, often more than a decade, after patents expire or rich countries transition to better drugs

African genomic data will also reduce the time lag between new drugs reaching the global market and Africans getting them, often more than a decade, after patents expire or rich countries transition to better drugs. Global genomic data with abundant African samples will facilitate the process of drug testing on a larger scale and diversity, thus ensuring that African genomes will be receptive to new drugs as well as their counterparts in the developed world.

Another significant research effort in African genomics is by renowned microbiologist Christian Happy at the African Center for Excellence in Infectious Disease Genomics (ACEGID) in Nigeria. ACEGID, which has received good reviews for its monitoring work on Lassa fever, Ebola and the Covid-19 virus, has received more than $9 million in grants and funding from countless institutions, including the World Bank, evidence of the growing global interest.

Led by Segun Fatoumou, associate professor and genetic epidemiologist, who trained at the University of Cambridge and was part of the team at the UK’s Wellcome Sanger Institute that conducted what is still considered one of the most important analyzes of the African genome to date, the studies conducted by the Computational African Genome Research Group at the Unit MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda research focus on genes associated with diseases that most often affect Africans.

The database of genetic information for the African population will be invaluable. The Three Million African Genomes Project (3MAG) is a major step in this direction, but it will cost $450 million annually and take 10 years to complete, according to Ambroise Wencam, a professor of medical genetics and one of the pioneers in the endeavor. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of knowledge and resources in the African genome.

according to World Health Organization Genomic sequencing (WHO) was crucial to quickly identifying the coronavirus and developing a robust response to containing it. Africa’s drawback in this regard has been significant, with the continent representing “only 1% of the more than 3.5 million Covid-19 sequences carried out to date worldwide”.

The The Institute for Disease Control’s Africa Center for Pathogen GenomicsUS CDC, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Illumina (a genome sequencing technology company), and Oxford Nanopore Technologies collaborate in a US$100 million 4-year initiative “to integrate pathogen genomics and bioinformatics into public health surveillance, investigations disease outbreaks, and improving disease control and prevention in Africa.”

Perhaps the most significant research endeavor in African genomics is the Human Genetics and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program sponsored by the African Society of Human Genetics founded by Charles Rotimi, Scientific Director at America’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

Read also: Economic potential of African genomics (1)

It is backed by the UK-based Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). H3Africa, which is headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa, but has sites across Africa, has enabled African scientists to conduct genome research on African populations in Africa.

“Most of H3Africa’s projects (about thirty or so) fall under what is called capacity building [viz.] Establishment of collaborative research centers. Vital Repositories (in Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa); Coordination Center for Research Projects on Ethical, Legal and Social Impacts (ELSI); Informatics network and bioinformatics training programs (LeMieux, 2021). “

In the Africa Wits-INDEPTH Partnership for Genome Research in South Africa, for example, funding from H3Africa was used for a “transcontinental study on genetic and environmental contributions to cardiovascular disease and traits in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Kenya and South Africa (LeMieux, 2021). “

An edited version was first published by the NTU-SBF Center for African Studies at Nanyang Business School, Singapore. References, figures and tables are in the original article. See link viz.