Abasi Ene-Obong, 34, is the CEO of 54Gene. He shares his passion for changing lives.
What is your job description?
I am the CEO of 54Gene, an African genomics company, which is one of the largest pan-African bio-banks. Prior to this, I was a management consultant in the United States where I consulted for the leading pharmaceutical and laboratory science companies and governments. Before this, I worked in a cancer research centre.
What are some of the services your company renders?
The 54 in the company name, 54Gene, represents the number of countries in Africa. The company’s primary objective is to contribute Africa’s genomic information to global genetics research. We are also looking to study African genetic information to see if there are protective mutations occurring in them. We can use this for drug development purposes. We want doctors to begin to run genetics tests. We want patients to start requesting genetics tests because this is a good way to treat many diseases. For instance, if someone has cancer, they need to know what kind of cancer they have because there are drugs for different subtypes of cancers. Sadly, we currently don’t have the facilities, and we want to ensure that doctors and patients begin to converse about genetics. We also want to ensure they have a cheap way to do these tests in the country.
What stirred your interest in starting up 54Gene?
Genetic information from Africa makes up only two per cent of global genetics research. This means that we won’t be treated in the nearest future except we contribute our genetic information to the research institution as they discover new drugs.
What gives 54Gene the edge which makes it different from others of its kind?
We are the first Pan-African private genomic data bank. What we are doing affects people of African descent across the world.
What is your customer strength?
I cannot disclose my clients for confidentiality sake but we have a strong customer base.
What are some of the challenges you face on the job?
The major challenge is that of talent. Because of how specialised what we are doing is, there aren’t many people in Nigeria who have practical experience in the field. There may be people who graduated with a degree in Genetics but because of how our universities are, they probably aren’t grounded in the practical aspect of it. There are talent and infrastructure gaps. What we do requires constant electricity and we have to pay through our noses to keep our bio bank running at all hours of the day, all year round; which makes it expensive. The infrastructure gap is what makes it a bit difficult to work in Nigeria but we love Nigeria, so we want to continue doing it here.
What motivates you to work?
I don’t know what else to do other than work. I have a need to be productive and be a producer. I feel that with every day I have breath, I should be producing. Making money is good but the bigger question is, “What am I making with my hands?”
What aspect of your job thrills you the most?
I like the fact that I’m learning. I like that I’ve got to a point where I am doing great in my field. I have the experience and education and I have great people around me.
What is your educational background?
I have four degrees. I have a Ph.D in Cancer Biology from the University of London. I have a Masters degree in Human Molecule Genetics from the Imperial College, London. I have another Masters degree in Business from the Claremont College, California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Sciences in Genetics and Biotechnology from the University of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.
What is your definition of success?
Success, to me, is seeing what I once conceived taking on a life of its own– with people who have also owned that dream. It is also about seeing what I am doing to influence and affect people positively. I believe success is how you benchmark yourself– it is how you see yourself, giving it your best between circumstances you can control and those you can’t.
What are your other interests?
I believe in agriculture. I’ve run a plantation and I believe that agriculture, if properly practiced in Nigeria, could improve the lives of many people. We have the resources for agriculture. I have also been involved in the entertainment business. I have had a wide variety of interests. As an entrepreneur, I encourage people to find the wealth-to-do around you and do it. That is the best way to go. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from doing what you want.