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Akili Labs, BGI Genomics bring clinical sequencing to Africa

Akili Labs and BGI Genomics will deliver their first commercial clinical sequencing facility in Africa. Photo: Supplied
Akili Labs and BGI Genomics will deliver their first commercial clinical sequencing facility in Africa. Photo: Supplied

Akili Labs and BGI Genomics have signed a technology transfer agreement to provide southern Africa with clinical-grade sequencing solutions. This development will improve the cost and turnaround time of genetic sequencing services, thereby expanding precision medicine-driven healthcare in Africa.

“Access to sequencing is only one part of the equation,” said Dr Stuart Ali, chief scientific officer of Akili. “Sending samples overseas means that they are not processed in locally accredited laboratories.

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“With the enforcement of the regional data protection laws and the need to preserve the geographic sovereignty and security of genetic data, local in-country solutions are now an imperative. Indeed, this partnership supplies the first truly Africa-based service to meet our client needs.”

By developing localised genomics sequencing capabilities in Africa, the initiative aims to improve health outcomes and enable local talent to lead this effort and bring their unique perspectives to the field. The partnership will not only benefit the people of Africa but also empower local talent to drive precision medicine.

Akili Labs specialises in cost-effective and accessible diagnostic services and has regional offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Lusaka in Zambia, and Maryland in the United States. BGI Genomics is the world’s leading integrated solutions provider of precision medicine and has its headquarters in Shenzhen, China.

Improving healthcare in Africa

Charles Faul, co-founder and chief executive of Akili Labs, said, “Locally provided services have struggled with capacity restraints and are challenged with local pricing of reagents and equipment. Often, the only solution is to send samples to Europe or the USA, where sequencing is cheaper. However, this comes at a price: the application for export permits can be a lengthy process, and then there is the risk of sample loss or damage during shipping.”

Both Akili Labs and BGI Genomics are committed to developing cutting-edge technology to improve healthcare in Africa.

Faul further explained that their services are supported by a proprietary cloud platform that manages clinical and genetic data through robust encryption and data compression algorithms. “These locations collectively establish the start of a global network for precision medicine and consumer genetics services,” he added.

Ronnie Mao, business manager of southern Africa at BGI Genomics, said, “We welcome the initiative to develop localised genomics sequencing capabilities in Africa, with a focus on clinical genetics and improving health outcomes.”

The growth of health technology in Africa has been rapid in recent years, as countries on the continent have recognised the potential benefits of innovative solutions to improve access and delivery of healthcare services. With advances in mobile technology and the development of telemedicine and e-health platforms, health technology has the potential to overcome challenges posed by limited infrastructure and resources, distance, and shortages of healthcare workers.

In particular, genomics and molecular diagnostics offer a promising avenue for precision medicine in Africa, as they can provide tailored diagnosis and treatment for individuals based on their genetic makeup. The partnership between Akili Labs and BGI Genomics to develop locally-based sequencing capabilities is a significant step towards achieving this goal, and a positive development for the health technology industry in the continent.

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