Brazilian Former Central Bank Chief Invests in Gene Bank Startup

Armínio Fraga and Eduardo Mufarej, former CEO of Tarpon Investimentos, are putting $2 million into gen-t

Lygia Pereira, CEO of Gen-t.
September 12, 2022 | 03:41 PM
Reading time: 3 min.

Bloomberg Línea — Brazilian startup gen-t, a genetic bank, is the first step into the private sector by Lygia da Veiga Pereira, a researcher and PhD graduate in genetics, but which has already won the endorsement of former president of the country’s Central Bank, Armínio Fraga, and Eduardo Mufarej, former CEO of Tarpon Investimentos, who have invested 10 million reais ($2 million) in the company.

Daniel Gold, a US-based investor at QVT Financial LP, specializing in biotechnology, and US pharma-tech Roivant Sciences also participated in the pre-seed funding round.

At USP, Pereira has been involved in initiatives to make a project of genomes of Brazilians in 2019, called DNA of Brazil. “Our population has this very unique characteristic of the miscegenation of ancestral peoples,” she explained.f São Paulo (USP) for 26 years and leads a laboratory focusing on human genetics projects.

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“The scientific community realized that 80% of what we were doing only concerned white populations. That was a big problem,” she said.

In genetics studies, the idea is to develop precision medicine, Pereira explains, which is when genome information is used to understand how to better manage health, and identify predispositions to diseases, as well as which medicines offer the best response.

The pharmaceutical industry is a major consumer of this type of data to study human biology and develop new drugs and treatments, Pereira says, adding that if populations are excluded from such databases, genome discoveries are lost.

At USP, she was involved in initiatives to create a genomes project of Brazilians in 2019, called ‘the DNA of Brazil’.

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“Our population has this very unique characteristic of the miscegenation of ancestral peoples,” she explains.

At the time, Brazil’s Ministry of Health began to bankroll the project through the national precision health program, Genomas Brasil, to foster more advanced therapies.

Participating in symposiums in the area, Pereira learned about projects in London for the creation of data platforms, but within the private sector, and which used the UK’s public health system to capture the data.

That’s how she decided to create a genetic and health data platform, separate from the USP project, for Brazil.

Now, her new company, gen-t, wants to invite people who are served by Brazil’s private health services to share data with the platform.

“We want to create a bank of biological material to be sequenced and from that data help the industry to answer the questions they have regarding the acceleration of development of new drugs, but using our data, using the data of the diversity of our population.”

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Gen-t is looking to partner with hospitals and health service clinics to track the health of the individual who shares the data. So far, the company has struck a deal with healthtech Dr.Consulta, which provides private consultations at a more affordable price.

“It’s not that by studying the Brazilian population we will make findings that only work for our population. We can find variants in the genomes of the Brazilian population that have not yet been described in other populations,” she explains.

The gen-t platform is under construction and intends to reach 200,000 Brazilians who share their data over the next five years.

According to Pereira, just as people chose to participate in the Covid-19 vaccine tests, she is expecting that Brazilians will be open to sharing their data to improve the health of the population.

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“If we want to bring this precision healthcare to our population, we need to know our genomes. And at the same time, we will monitor the health of that person. We do a series of blood tests and questionnaires about the person’s health, we cross-reference the results of these tests to develop information about risks and in the medium term we will start analyzing the DNA of these people,” Pereira told Bloomberg Línea.

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She said she will reduce her work at USP to part-time in order to take over as CEO of the startup. Gen-t currently has a clinical team of around 12 people and by May next year plans to have collected genetic materials from 15,000 people in the database, in addition to at least two contracts closed with the industry.

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