JAKARTA, INDONESIA NOVEMBER 01, 2018 — Genetic testing company Nalagenetics today announced the closing of a US$1 million pre-seed round of financing led by East Ventures. Intudo Ventures and a number of strategic angel investors. Nalagenetics aims to create cost-effective tests tailored to Asian populations, starting in Singapore and Indonesia. Current tests are not only expensive for a market that pays for health care out of pocket but also does not provide targeted recommendations for local populations. Today, the majority of discoveries and products in genetics are based on Caucasian populations. This round of financing will be used to complete proof-of-value projects in partnership with leading hospitals and providers in Singapore and Indonesia and recruit new talent for the team.
Today, trial and error is common practice. Based on a survey in Singapore whose population consists of Chinese, Malays, and Indians, adverse drug reactions are responsible for 8% of hospital admissions,1 and only about 50% of drugs deliver positive effects.2 Adverse drug reactions are estimated to waste about US$30 billion of healthcare resources in the US,3 and a similarly significant number in Asia due to increasing consumption of pharmaceutical products. A survey showed that about 30% of adverse reactions are caused by medications with possible genetic factors.1 Knowing a person’s genetic makeup can, therefore, save patients from unwanted, sometimes deadly, adverse side effects.
Localizing the solution
The Nalagenetics team recognized the value of localization while working at the Genome Institute of Singapore. The team started working together to bring into the market a genetic biomarker they discovered, that determined which leprosy patients are likely to have a potentially fatal adverse reaction called Dapsone Hypersensitivity Syndrome (DHS) during their treatments. The test they developed can be used to tailor medications to avoid side effects and prevent inappropriate abandonment of the drug altogether.
The problem was the perfect case study for local innovation. For one, leprosy only exists in small pockets in developing countries—Indonesia having 20,000 patients, the third largest globally. Secondly, whatever the solution, it had to be simple and easy enough to run in remote areas such as Papua. Third, it had to be cost-effective for the government to reimburse.
When the non-commercial project attracted positive attention from the Indonesian government, which became Nalagenetics’ first customer, it came as a pleasant surprise for everyone. After a year of successful validation, the team decided to broaden their research scope into other diseases and medications, creating a real commercial venture.
Nalagenetics is founded by a group of scientists with a passion for impact. Dr. Jianjun Liu, Dr. Astrid Irwanto, Dr. Alexander Lezhava, and Levana Sani met while working at Genome Institute of Singapore. Astrid, who then was a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Liu’s research group, worked closely with Levana, a research officer at the time. They collaborated with Dr. Lezhava, a genomic assay design expert, to design a test under US$5 and deploy 1,000 tests to Papua. The project continued as Levana left for Harvard Business School, during which she continued to work on Nalagenetics remotely.
"The first meeting with the team left me a very deep impression. What Nalagenetics is solving will do good for Asian populations. We are really passionate to assist them to make sure their cost-effective solutions are accessible to a wider audience. This is a kind of startup that commercial gain is irrelevant because the impact of their product is enormous," said Willson Cuaca, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at East Ventures.
“Nalagenetics represents indigenous innovation by Indonesians to address local health challenges that have previously been overlooked. Having worked with the Nalagenetics team over the past year, they have demonstrated a high level of expertise and professionalism and are well-positioned for success. We will continue to support Nalagenetic’s growth through our network of local and international strategic partners, as they strive to improve the health and livelihood of Southeast Asians,” said Patrick Yip, Founding Partner at Intudo Ventures.
Nalagenetics now focuses on pharmacogenomics, a branch within genetics that studies how DNA affects a person’s drug response. Since established in 2016 for the leprosy project, Nalagenetics has been incubated in Harvard’s Venture Incubation Program and obtained support to develop and validate their genetic tests at Genome Institute of Singapore through Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL). The team is now developing a pilot in Singapore and Indonesia with top hospitals and doctors to help make better prescribing decisions through genetic testing. The team develops in-house clinical-grade genetic tests, Asian-enriched knowledge base, and an online clinical decision supporting and patient engagement platform to ensure their tests are able to effectively reduce adverse drug reactions and increase efficacy.
Nalagenetics is building a team consisting of patient care managers, bioinformaticians, software engineers, and geneticists. The team acknowledges invaluable mentorship from experts in the US and Asia, in the fields of pharmacogenomics, bioinformatics, as well as business, who have guided them throughout this journey. ###
Nalagenetics is a Singapore-based biotech company dedicated to reducing adverse drug reactions and increase prescription efficacy through genetic testing for local Asian populations in Singapore, Indonesia and beyond. By studying how certain DNA characteristics affect drug responses, the company aims to develop genetic tests that are easier to understand, more affordable, and localized for Asian physicians and patients. The Nalagenetics team consists of passionate and driven engineers, scientists, and healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the lives of people throughout Southeast Asia. For more information, please visit https://www.nalagenetics.com/