Jayapura, Jubi — Leprosy was mostly wiped out in Indonesia two decades ago, but because it remains prevalent in some far-flung regions, the archipelago nation ranks third in cases of the disease after India and Brazil.
In remote villages in Papua and West Papua provinces, the Indonesian government’s efforts to combat the disease have been hampered by life-threatening adverse reactions to a World Health Organization-recommended anti-leprosy medication called Dapsone. The reactions pose such a risk that some doctors have stopped administering the drug altogether.
Enter genetic testing startup Nalagenetics, which was founded in 2016 by a team of scientists from Indonesia and Singapore.
The company sees a crucial role for itself in addressing such public health problems. The startup collaborates with the Genome Institute of Singapore to develop pharmacogenomic testing — finding out how a person’s genes affect their bodies’ response to medicines — with the aim of reducing adverse drug reactions and increasing prescription efficacy. This is carried out through the use of reagents and analytical software that the team develops under the intellectual property collaboration.
Last year, Nalagenetics won its first major contract from the Indonesian health ministry to distribute 1,000 genetic test kits in five villages in Papua and West Papua. It found that 20% of leprosy patients there carry the gene responsible for potentially fatal reactions to Dapsone. This discovery has helped doctors decide which patients can be safely treated with the antibiotic.
“What we told doctors is, ‘If you test these patients first, and you know which drugs work for whom, you can actually give the right drug to the right people,'” Nalagenetics chief exeuctive co-founder Levana Sani told the Nikkei Asian Review in her co-working space in Jakarta. The Singapore-based startup sees Indonesia as its main target market.
“I think that idea resonated a lot with the [Indonesian] government because the government cares about leprosy patients. They want to solve this problem,” she added.
Nalagenetics received $1 million in a pre-seed funding round last November from Southeast Asia- and Japan-focused fund East Ventures, Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures and some angel investors.
Levi, as Sani preferred to be called, said Nalagenetics had not immediately thought of accessing venture capital funding as it had been receiving science grants, including one from Singapore’s science and research agency, A*STAR, dedicated to scientists turning their research work into business ventures. The startup has received 500,000 Singapore dollars ($366,000) in total grants.
Indeed, Nalagenetics was born out of a science lab: the Genome Institute of Singapore, where Levi met three senior colleagues who later became her co-founders. This happened during her internship at the institute, after the Indonesian native earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California and before her two-year study at the Harvard Business School.
“[My co-founders] were like, OK, we really want to create a company because we think we can do more than just publishing papers,” Levi said.
She started taking care of Nalagenetics full time upon her return from the U.S. in September, with a second co-founder set to join her soon. The other two co-founders hold senior positions at the genome institute, and will continue to act as advisers to Nalagenetics. The startup currently has 10 employees, but it is recruiting amid expansion plans.
Genetic testing is not new in the startup scene. The U.S. has led the market for consumer-oriented gene analysis services, thanks to the presence of many promising startups such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA.
In Asia, Hong Kong-based Prenetics had earlier entered Southeast Asia, and began operations in mainland China in April. It has raised a total of $52.7 million, according to Crunchbase, which keeps track of startups. Meanwhile, China-focused 23Mofang raised a total of 200 million yuan ($29 million) last year.
Apart from pharmacogenomic services, Prenetics, which could be considered Nalagenetics’ closest rival, offers general genetic profiling that allows subjects to understand their alcohol tolerance, what diets work best for them and risks of cancer and other diseases, for example.
But while Prenetics partners with insurance companies to offer testing kits to policyholders, Nalagenetics opts to collaborate directly with doctors and hospitals. The goal is to develop genetic tests suitable to their specific prescription needs — with a focus on cancer, cardiovascular and psychiatry treatments, as well as those for infectious diseases like leprosy.
Nalagenetics is currently partnering with research hospitals in Jakarta and Singapore, and is planning to enter Thailand next year. Citing ongoing legal negotiations, however, it declined to name its hospital partners.
“What we really want to do is to make this [genetic testing] part of a national guideline of a country,” Levi said, adding that Nalagenetics is well on its way in that direction with the Dapsone leprosy treatment in Indonesia. “Because that means … the whole nation is a captive market.”
Eddy Chan, founding partner at Intudo Ventures, sees business opportunities in Nalagenetics’ “razor focus” on seemingly niche markets, which he said is simply a starting point.
“Once such a company delivers massive value and delightful experiences to its customers, it can greatly expand the market itself and their product offering to customers,” Chan said.
This seems to ring true. Levi said following the leprosy project in Indonesia, Nalagenetics has received similar requests — albeit of smaller scale — from Nepal and India. There have also been other orders from Australia and Dubai.
“With these things, because the market is still quite new, we don’t need massive [promotions],” Levi said. “We only need one distributor or one partner who have full trust on our product, and then it will become a lab reference in the country.”
Galen Growth Asia, a health tech research firm, said 2018 was a record-breaking year, with $6.3 billion invested in health tech companies in the Asia-Pacific region. And in the January-March period, total investment in digital health in the region exceeded the $1 billion mark, edging ahead of the U.S. for the first time. With China stagnating and India plummeting, Southeast Asia drove the growth, accounting for 22% of all deals in the first quarter, up 11% year on year.
Chan said Intudo is bullish on the prospects of the health tech industry in Southeast Asian countries, citing their health care spending as a percentage of gross domestic product that remains below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average.
Initiatives taken by regional governments, such as Indonesia’s expanding universal coverage scheme BPJS, are another driving factor. Levi said Nalagenetics won the leprosy contract through a BPJS tender, and that it is preparing to take part in other tenders under the same program. (*)
This article appeared first time on asia.nikei.com
Docking their yachts at Jayapura Seaport, foreigners scrutinised by local immigration office
Jayapura, Jubi – Jayapura Immigration, Seaport Health Quarantine Office, Maritime and Port Authority secured and interrogated four foreign citizens on Wednesday (18/3/2020) following their act sailing to Jayapura sea and docking private yachts at Jayapura Seaport.
The Head of Jayapura Immigration Gatut Setiawan states the four foreigners arrived in Jayapura by two different yachts. The Singaporean Wong Tet Chong took Ximula-3 Langkawi, while Bruno Coolmet of France came to Jayapura with his wife and future son-in-law by Krypton.
“The four sailed from Sorong, West Papua Province and got clearance from Sorong Immigration. But, as soon they arrived in Jayapura, they were going to the downtown without reporting their arriving to the quarantine office and seaport authority,” said Gatut in Jayapura on Wednesday (18/3/2020).
In his statement, Gatut said Wong Tet Chong initially wanted to sail his yacht to Papua New Guinea but change the destination to Jayapura due to bad weather and engine problem. Besides, the authority of Papua New Guinea has currently closed access to the country.
“The immigration, quarantine office and seaport authority has interrogated (him) and conducted the thermal check as a procedure of coronavirus anticipation. His body temperature was normal, so we gave him two days to leave the Jayapura water. If he is still around [more than two days], the seaport authority will forcibly pull out his yacht out of Indonesia,” said Gatut.
Meanwhile, Gatut said the immigration did not found any immigration violations conducted by Bruno Coolmet, his wife and their future son-in-law because they have a legal permit to stay until 1 April 2020.
“Although they did not break the immigration rule, they should deal with both quarantine office and seaport authority because [docked and left their yacht at the seaport] without reporting. In the future, we will be more restricted to protect the security of the sea from invasion by foreigners or others by involving the quarantine office, seaport authority and other relevant offices,” said Gatut.
After completing their administrative issue with the quarantine office, the three French national should leave the Jayapura Sea. “The immigration is keeping their documents as a guarantee,” he said.
Earlier, Deputy Governor of Papua Province Klemen Tinal asked the Immigration, Seaport Quarantine Office and other relevant offices to restrict the surveillance over passengers at airports, seaports and other entries to anticipate the spreading of coronavirus to Papua.
“Restriction and inspection should be done more strictly to both foreign and domestic passengers coming to Papua,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Alexander Loen
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Goliat Tabuni asks independent team to investigate the church burning in Tembagapura
Jayapura, Jubi – West Papua Liberation Army (TPNPB) challenge the Government of Indonesia to provide access for an independent investigation team investigating perpetrators behind the burning of a church in Tembagapura Sub-district, Mimika Regency, Papua in a press released by TPNPB. The statement of the Supreme Commander of TPNTP General Goliat Tabuni received by Jubi on Wednesday (18/3/2020).
On Thursday (12/3/2020), the Indonesian Gospel Tent (GKII) Church of Sinai Congregation in Opitawak Village of Tembagapura Sub-district reportedly burned out. The Indonesian security forces pointed finger to TPNPB as perpetrators. However, General Goliat Tabuni denied all allegations in his press release.
In turn, he believes this incident was part of the game playing by the Indonesian security forces to discredit the image of TPNPB in which they have always done for a long time. “This is not new, but [it has happened] since 1960 to the present. The Indonesian Military and Police have done it for a long time,” said Tabuni in his press release.
Furthermore, Tabuni said TPNTP was not surprised by many reports accused them as the perpetrator behind the church burning. Therefore, he challenges the Indonesian Government to provide access to an independent investigation team to investigate.
Meanwhile, TPNPB spokesperson Sebby Sambon confirms the statement released on behalf of Goliat Tabuni as valid. Further, he says the independent investigation team preferred by TPNPB is a joint investigation team of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council and the National Human Rights Commission of Papua Office.
“If they want to find who is behind the church burning, the Indonesian Government must allow the independent team to investigate. [The independent team is] the Human Rights Council [United Nations] and the National Human Rights Commission of Papua Office,” Sambom told Jubi on Wednesday (18/3/2020).
Furthermore, he said the Indonesian Government should be able to prove their accusation through a fair and impartial legal process, not only pointing fingers to TPNPB. “The Indonesian Military and Police should not just accuse TPNPB, and the Indonesian media should not unilaterally publish the one-side story,” said Sambom.
Meanwhile, Antara News Agency launched the statement of Tembagapura Police Chief Adjunct Commissionaire Hermanto saying the insurgent group led by Lekagak Telenggen and Joni Botak burned down the GKII Sinai Congregation Church in Opitawak Village.
“The church was initially crowded by Opitawak villagers for worshipping and other church activities. However, in several recent weeks, the armed group came to spread terror in this village. People finally have to give in to this situation,” said Hermanto to Antara. (*)
Reporter: Benny Mawel
Editor: Pipit Maizier
80 candles lit to commemorate one-year of Sentani flash flood
Sentani, Jubi – Flash food that hit Sentani on 16 March 2019 is still kept strictly in the memory of those who experienced it. Even today, after one year of the disaster, many people are still living in refugee camps. To commemorate one year of the incident, young people and the Baptist Sunday School of Imanuel Toladan Church organise worship and several activities to pray for their family members who passed away in this natural disaster.
“We have not prepared this event for a long time, but we think this is what we can do. We want to remember the incident where all Sunday School’s students were gathering in the ‘island’ for worshipping then suddenly the flash flood came,” says Jenny Marlin Wenda, the GBIT Sunday School Principal, to Jubi on Monday evening (16/3/2020).
Furthermore, she adds that there is nothing more valuable than being grateful to God.
“So, here we are today. Mr Jeff Ron comes to give us a preach and motivate those who attend the worship today. Before praying, we lit 80 candles that provided by our school, then watch movies while gathering for coffee in the churchyard,” she says.
Besides youth and Baptist congregations, this event also involves nearby neighbours.
“We also thank those who participated to join the event and pray with us. We meet with families of victims who join and bring some food for all of us to enjoy. They feel this worship is important to them, so they come to join,” she says.
Moreover, she says no one ever thinks that they would survive in flah flood.
“When remembering that experience, I am sad because it caused 114 death, 205 missing and 961 injured, while approximately 11,725 are currently living in refugee camps. “
Meanwhile, Jeff Ron Sohilait in his preach says in difficult time humans might not think that they will survive during a flash flood, but nothing is impossible for God. God opened the way for us when we were at the island at the time.
“At that night, God opened us the way. He brought us out of place at that time. It means He has a certain purpose for the children of Sunday School in this world,” he says.
“On Saturday evening one year ago, these children went to the worship, and because of their prayer, God came to save them. This is a great testimony where God came to them in the sudden episode and guided them to the safe place,” says Jeff Ron. (*)
Reporter: Yance Wenda
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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