You don’t often hear of five-year-old companies raising multi-million dollar seed rounds, but that’s exactly what’s happened in Hong Kong today where biotech firm Prenetics closed $2.65 million for its next-generation prenatal DNA testing.
Prenetics has also got itself a new CEO: Danny Yeung, who led Groupon’s East Asia business until April of this year. Yeung, who is not drawing a salary and participated in the round in a personal capacity, helped bring other investors to the tablet, including 500 Startups, SXE Ventures (a fund Yeung co-founded this year), Groupon’s APAC lead Joel Neoh, and Singapore’s Coent Venture Partners.
The company began as a research department at City University Hong Kong before it was spun off in 2009. It offers a range of DNA-based services, but today it officially launched ‘Prenetics V’, a Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) that uses DNA to test for 16 different health conditions in a fetus.
Offering Peace Of Mind
The test uses a blood sample from the mother from as early as the tenth week of the pregnancy, and it has a detection rate of more than 99 percent. The idea is to give couples peace of mind about the health of their child, and identify any potential problems early in the pregnancy.
NIPT is standard in the U.S. and other parts of the West, but that’s not the case in Asia.
Expectant parents who want to screen their pre-born child have fewer options in this part of the world. Most weigh up the merits of invasive tests — such as probes or needles inserted in the mother’s uterus — despite the risk of pregnancy complications and a 10-20 percent chance of misdiagnosis, or simply go without a test.
By comparison, NIPT poses no risk to a fetus and, Prenetics claims, it can be 200 times more accurate with its results.
Prenetics wants to change all of this with its new product, which is sold to medical professions rather than end consumers. That said, the company is running a consumer-facing marketing campaign in Hong Kong to build its brand and raise awareness among the population and medical industry.
Huge Potential To Change Lives
Yeung sold his group buying site uBuyiBuy to Groupon in 2010 but stayed on as part of that deal until this year. Initially he founded SXE Ventures following his departure, but his “entrepreneurial instincts kicked in” and now he is getting back into business, as he explained to TechCrunch in an interview.
“I believe I can help the company make a big impact. There’s a great team of 16, including four PhDs, and I’m here to commercialize the product, package it and educate pharmaceutical companies and consumers alike of the benefits,” he said.
“The pregnancy industry is a billion dollar one but, beyond that, this technology has the potential to really impact lives,” Yeung added. “A lot of people in Asia simply don’t know [DNA prenatal testing] exists, it should be a primary screening.”
Prenetics V is the company’s primary focus but Yeung says that there are plans to expand its offerings to other products in the future. That may require more funding, he added, pointing out that Prenetics could have raised a larger amount this time around but chose not to.
As someone with two children who were born in Asia, I fully understand the peace of mind that this test can bring to parents because it was something I never had the option of. The fact that it is available in Western markets but not widely in Asia is something that Yeung said a number of companies — Prenetics included — are working to fix. That makes absolute sense, and his job is to ensure his company is the one that changes this.