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
A tragic story from Deiyai Regent Office
Jayapura, Jubi – A rally to protest racism against West Papuans in front of the Deiyai Regent Office on Wednesday, 28 August 2019, turned to a tragedy. A local parliament member Alfret Pakage told Jubi about the tragic story.
The story began when a young man called Yustimus Takimas died in a car crash involving an Indonesian soldier. His death triggered a mass rampage that ended with the police’s gunshot.
“I don’t have an idea about what was happening at the Regent Office’s backyard because I was standing at the side door watching people coming. After the car accident that killed young Takimai, people killed a soldier who was in the car. Then, all young men joined the crowd. Some entered through the front while others from the back via BKD Office. At that time the joint security force stood at the corner of the Regent Office. I was there too facing the BKD Office,” Pakage told Jubi by phone on Wednesday, (11/9/2019).
Furthermore, he said the mob threw stones to the soldiers, and they responded it with tear gas shots. However, when they found out a soldier killed, they threw bullets against the crowd. “I told the Crime and Investigation Department Chief of Paniai Police to hold. It happened when they (security force) knew a soldier died. They shot their guns to the people,” he said.
Then, the Military District Commandant immediately came out of his office located across the street in front of the Regent Office. “He shouted ‘my soldier is dead. Where’s the Regent? He must be responsible for this. The soldiers took their gun out. Brimob personnel were also there,” he said.
Pakage was alone at the scene, while the regent, deputy regent, local parliament members and all government officials already left their office. The police step on the body of the dead victim lying under the flagpole at the office’s front yard.
“I shouted at them to stop.” While he was confused about how to stop it, he also could not do anything because he was alone and under gun threat.
“I saw people died lying under the flagpole. It’s just me. I was alone. When the soldiers found out that people taken away their guns, they prevented me from being a mediator. They even pointed their guns against me and said ‘you want to back up or not? If not, you’ll be responsible for this’. After that, I backed up. But I still told them not be overwhelming,” he said.
Furthermore, according to Pakage, he moved to a kiosk opposite the Regent Office to join some police officers of Mee origin. It was only 17:12 but already so quiet, and nobody dared to pass. He then saw the ambulance from Deiyai Public Hospital going to the scene.
“I saw the ambulance coming from Deiyai Public Hospital to collect West Papuans who injured and fell because of the shooting. But the police came to block the car, pulled out the victims and took the ambulance’s key. They put their injured friends (soldiers), sent both driver and medical workers home. Then ambulance went to Paniai and left the injured West Papuans,” he said.
It was getting late, so he hurried to go home. He reminded himself that he must keep safe from the danger. Of returning home, he observed that Waghete became so quiet. Only found the security forces standing along the street from the Regent Office to Waghete II until the airport compound.
On the next day, Thursday (29/8/2019), he returned to the scene to check whether the dead bodies are still there or taken to the hospital.
“I only saw the soldiers standing along the street. I didn’t meet any residents. First of all, I checked the Deiyai Public Hospital, but the gate was locked and no activities there. I came inside knocking the door but no one there. So, I went to the scene to check whether the victims are still there or not. So I parked my vehicle at the entrance of the Regent’s office. Suddenly, the joint security force came investigating me with anger.
“They asked, ‘where are our guns?’ I told them I am also a part of this country. Those weapons are the state’s tools; I try to find those losing guns. However, the victims were not there anymore. So I went to Damabagata, Tigi Timur sub-district because I heard from someone that they keep the weapons there. At that time, the Military District Commandant was well-equipped guarding at the intersection of Waghete, Dogiyai and Paniai,” he said.
He continued the story by saying that the Paniai Police then asked him to come to their office as a witness. “At that time, the police acted without thinking. It was a big mistake. They examined me as a witness at the regency police station,” he said.
Meanwhile, Father Santon Tekege Pr said the investigation of the Secretariat of Peace and Justice (SKP) of Paniai Dean – Timika Diocese concludes that a car accident involving a soldier that caused the death of Yustinus Takimai triggered this shooting incident.
“As a result of the gunfire and tear gas shots, seven civilians were dead, while 43 people injured with both minor and serious injuries,” said Father Santon. (*)
Reporter: Abeth You
Editor: Pipit Maizier
JDP: Government must arrange the customary-based dialogue in Papua
Jayapura, Jubi – A dialogue on Papua should represent the people of Papua, Father Jhon Bunay Pr, the Coordinator for Papua Peace Networks (JDP), told reporters in a press conference held in Jayapura on 7 September 2019.
“The dialogue should conduct in seven Papuan territories, namely Mamta, Anim Ha, Lapago, Meepago, Saireri, Domberai and Bomberai and involve each representative of the central government, military and police, liberation army, Papuans living in Papua, Papuans domicile outside of Papua, other residents of Papua, investors and mass media,” he said.
Furthermore, he emphasises that the involvement of indigenous representatives in the dialogue is crucial. He hopes the government does not initiate the discussion with Papuans from outside of Papua because it could make problems difficult to solve.
“We are the same. We are brothers, no suspicion. There shouldn’t be the police or military’s spies or those who have no concern come in this dialogue. It’s important to ensure that everyone is free to express their feeling and thought, and we’ll find a solution together,” he said.
He also reminds the government to not organising the dialogue in the form of a seminar. It would not work in terms of producing a satisfactory result for everyone. “We will never find a real solution (through seminar); the result is null. Instead, we must invite local peoples to speak,” he said.
Moreover, he says the dialogue between Jakarta and Papua would never happen due to the high suspicions amongst stakeholders. “Perhaps we are too suspicious of each other. Talking about Papua’s issues should not be done with another approach, because the dialogue is the best approach,” he said.
Therefore, he said the relevant stakeholders must sit together to recover painful and bitter memories during the long conflict that occurred in Papua, including to put suspicious away.
“We must do reconciliation in the seven Papuan territories with involving all relevant stakeholders in Papua. Meanwhile, other components such as military and police, liberation army, Papuans from inside and outside of Papua, other residents of Papua, and mass media must attend (and involved in the process of) in the reconciliation,” he said.
Therefore, the process of reconciliation will turn out to be a transformation point for Papua to plan the best future for Papua. He also reminds that instead of discussing Papua in or inside Indonesia, it is more important to talk about the indigenous rights in Papua, and the welfare of all indigenous Papuans.
“I believe that the dialogue will solve all the problems from the past. Using guns, arresting and putting people in jail would not solve the problem. Instead, it makes it worse,” he says.
Meanwhile, JDP Deputy Daniel Randongkir said authorities must prioritise the principles of human rights and justice. “Once again, for JDP, the dialogue is the only way to solve the problem in Papua with rights and pure. Therefore it can be solved on behalf of justice and dignity,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo
Editor: Pipit Maizier
ULMWP: Military and mass organisation in Surabaya are responsible for demonstration waves in Papua
Jayapura, Jubi – Buchtar Tabuni, the Chairman of Legislative Committee of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), declined that ULMWP was behind the mass protests and rampages in Papua. Instead, he accused the Indonesian military, and local mob committed in persecution and racism against Papuan students in Surabaya are responsible for these incidents.
“Those who should be responsible for these protests and rampages in Papua are soldiers, police officers, municipal police officers and the local mob in Surabaya. Those who attacked Papuan students and called them ‘monkeys’ have triggered demonstrations occurred in Papua,” he told Jubi on Sunday (8/9/2019) in Waena, Jayapura.
He further said that for the couple last weeks, the Indonesian Government has attempted to build a discourse to put the ULMWP as the actor behind the anti-racism movements in Papua. “The Indonesian government is panic, terrifying in addressing the issue of free Papua that currently becomes a headline in the rest of the world thanks to the South Pacific countries,” he said.
He also said the way military and police in addressing the outrage speared amongst Papuans is not right. Instead of acting promptly, the government denied the persecution and racism against Papuan students in Surabaya. They even deployed more soldiers to Papua. “ULMWP considers the current situation is similar to what had happened in Timor Lester ahead to their independence,” he said.
Moreover, Tabuni stated the struggle for a referendum is open for everyone in Papua, including the migrants. He said the migrants have two options to response the growing demand of referendum amongst Papuans. “First, if they want to stay, they must declare their support to referendum for West Papua, just like indigenous Papuans did. Second, if they want to return to their hometowns, they must go nicely, like Papuans student currently did,” he said.
Separately, Victor Yeimo, the Spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), said Papuan people are not ‘animals’. They are not easy to provoke by the ULMWP, KNPB, Veronika Koman or Benny Wenda. People go to the street because they want to fight against colonialism.
“The Indonesian Government still perceive Papuans as sub-human (half-animal) who easy to provoke. Up to now they always blame on particular organisations or certain people as the actors. Just asks Papuans whether they go to the street because of being provoked by KNPB? Veronica Koman? Benny Wenda? The answer is not,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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