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
MG was in Wamena when Istaka workers murdered, says MRP member
Jayapura, Jubi – Luis Madai, a member of Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), said the person named for suspect in the murder of sixteen workers of PT Istaka Karya was not in Nduga at the time of the incident. Instead, Madai said, the suspect MG was in Wamena, the capital of Jayawijaya Regency, Papua.
Madai declared his statement on Wednesday (22/1/2020). “During the incident [of murder], MG was in Wamena [with his family]” said Madai.
Therefore, he called the police to act fair and clever in investigating this case of ambush. Madai said the police investigation, in this case, seems to abuse the right of a person who does not have any knowledge about law and Indonesian by accusing him of the suspect.
“The police must see who is the real perpetrator. If they can see it clearly, they can find people who deserved to be arrested and brought to justice,” said Madai.
He then gave an example of Egianus Kogoya, the armed group leader from the West Papua National Liberation Army who had claimed be responsible for the murder. Madai also mentioned that the police should thoroughly examine the testimony given by Jhony Arung as the field supervisor of PT Istaka Karya.
“It is clear that Egianus Kogoya is the master of mind that the police should arrest. But they do not arrest him until now,” said Magai. Furthermore, he asked the police for tracing Arung’s current domicile. Johny Arung was one of the workers who were safe from the ambush.
The sixteen workers of PT Istaka Karya was killed in the ambush on 2 December 2018. The insurgent group from West Papua National Liberation Army under Egianus Kogoya claimed to be responsible towards this incident.
Meanwhile, the legal process against MG has become a controversial issue. MG was arrested by the military Task Force near the murder scene, Puncak Kabo, Yigi Sub-district, Nduga Regency and handed him to the local police of Jayawijaya.
The police admitted that MG is not a member of Kogoya’s group. On 15 August 2019, the Local Police of Jayawijaya held the reconstruction of Nduga ambush at the yard of Jayawijaya Police Headquarters. In the reconstruction, MG demonstrated 30 scenes of the shooting.
After the reconstruction, Jayawijaya Police Crime and Investigation Sub-unit Chief Alexander told Jubi that MG is not a member of Kogoya’s group but a partisan.
On 17 December 2019, Adjunct Police Commissionaire Suheriadi, Jayawijaya Crime and Investigation Unit, declared that MG has sent to Jakarta and would try in Jakarta. At that time he stated MG was named a suspect because he was at Puncak Kabo at the time of the ambush. “MG helped to determine whether the shot victims were already dead or not by stubbing their bodies,” he told Jubi on 17 December 2019.
The trial against MP that held in the Central Jakarta District Court has become a concern of many parties. On 17 January 2020, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) sent a letter to the Head of the Central Jakarta District Court asking the panel of judges to consider the teeth examination towards the suspect to estimate the actual age of the suspect. KPAI sent the letter after receiving information that MG is still a child but conduct a trial in a public court.
Meanwhile, the Papuan People’s Representative has published their investigation in a book titled “Kekerasan tak Berujung di Nduga” which means the endless violence in Nduga. This report concludes that the murder of PT Istaka Karya workers did not occur spontaneously, but preceded by a series of events involving the insurgent group from West Papua National Liberation Army and the workers. In their report, the Papuan People’s Assembly reviews the role of Jhony Arung in the series of event that led to the murder of sixteen PT Istaka Karya workers. (*)
Reporter: Benny Mawel
Editor: Pipit Maizier
New Brimob headquarters faces land and personnel issues
Wamena, Jubi – Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters planned to build in Jayawijaya Regency, Papua Province face both land and personnel issues.
Senior Police Commissionaire Godhelp Mansnembra, the Unit Commander of Papua Police’s Brimob, said despite these two issues they still need coordination with the local police chief of Jayawijaya Regency.
“We are not planning to build a big headquarters, but at least it is enough for accommodating a company. So, perhaps we can set a post for a start. It also relates to personnel recruitment,” Mansnembra said in Wamena on Wednesday (22/1/2020).
The Papua Police has formed the Mobile Brigade Detachment D in Jayawijaya with 171 personnel, but they are planning to expand their personnel to 400.
“We have a Brimob detachment here. With more than 400 troopers, they would not only be assigned in Jayawijaya Regency, but also to other regions such as Merauke, Mappi and Wamena,” he said.
If the land is available, we will start to build the headquarters command for a company at least next year.
“Regarding other facilities, we already have vehicles, but considering the expensive fuel and maintenance cost in Wamena, we need to wait until the settlement of the land issue to bring those operational vehicles here,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Regent of Jayawijaya Marthin Yogobi said from the meeting with Brimob Unit Commander there was no discussion concerning the construction of Brimob Headquarters. However, the regional government had facilitated the installation of some Brimob posts in several points to support peace and order in society.
“During the meeting with Brimob Unit Commander, there was no discussion about such plan of extra personnel deployment to Jayawijaya region,” he said.
Further, Yogobi said the commander’s visit to Jayawijaya was also to inspect his personnel’s promptness ahead of local councillor’s inauguration which planned taking place Wednesday (23/1/2020)
“The existing Brimob troop in Jayawijaya is sufficient to support security during the inauguration,” he said. (*)
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Papua Government will find solutions for exodus students
Jayapura, Jubi – The Provincial Government of Papua would attempt to address problems facing the exodus students who continue to stay in Jayapura City, Papua.
Papua Provincial Secretary Herry Dosinaen told hundreds of exodus students who wish to meet Papua Governor Lukas Enembe in a meeting facilitated by the Papuan People’s Assembly.
“The governor just called saying he now has a meeting with the Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Education. They talk about the possibility listed exodus students for being able to resume their studies at their former educational institutions,” the provincial secretary told hundreds of exodus students on Wednesday (22/1/2020).
Meanwhile, Papuan House of Representatives’ Chairman Jhony Banua Rouw hopes the meeting between the provincial government, local parliament and the exodus students can accommodate both parties to a better solution.
“We are trying to find solutions for these students because it is not easy for them to return to their former cities of study and adapt to it. However, we can find a way to make them feel safe,” he said.
According to him, before the students return to their former cities of study, it is the government’s responsibility for ensuring that the students would be safe and secured. Therefore, there will be no more racism incidents to occur in the future.
“We must take immediate actions before the enrolment begins to avoid late enrolment that can affect their academic result and emotion in the cities of study,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Agus Pabika
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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