Prenetics raises $10M to popularize patient DNA testing in Asia

Prenetics, a Hong Kong-based medical technology company, has raised a $10 million Series A round for its DNA testing technology that helps doctors provide more accurate diagnoses and better understand their patients.

The company claims that 190,000 people die every year in China alone from adverse reactions to medication prescribed to them. Yet those fatalities could be avoided with a dose of technology. Armed with genetic testing capabilities, Prenetics says it can help medical professions prescribe medicine more accurately, with more effective results and lowered risks of side effects.

Prenetics’ iGenes product uses “a non-invasive buccal swab test” — that’s a DNA collection from the inside a patient’s mouth/cheek — which generates results for physicians with 48 hours straight to its mobile app. That information, the company claims, can help spot potential side effects from medicine and allow for “more precise” prescriptions — potentially saving lives and pain for patients.

“Companies like Uber, Spotify and Airbnb have changed our family lives today,” Prenetics CEO Danny Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview. “But technology still hasn’t impacted medicine.

“Many people will go to see a doctor but won’t be aware which drugs are best for them. It’s a big problem, 4.7 million people suffer from misdiagnosis just in the U.S. and China each year.”

Prenetics was initially called Multigene, and started out as a spin-off from Hong Kong’s City University. The company previously raised $2.65 million when it offered pre-natal screening for expectant moms. But it has wound back that effort in favor of using genetics to battle issues with the potential to make a wider impact, Yeung said of the change in focus.

Yeung, who previously led Groupon’s East Asia business and the only member of Prenetics’ management team and board without a doctorate degree, joined Prenetics last year as CEO because he believes there’s “so much possibility for disruption in medicine.” He said the company plans to launch products focused on other areas this, it will also expand its current focus on China and Hong Kong and move into Southeast Asia.

“We’re focused on precision medicine,” Yeung said. “We’re making sure that we have specific products geared towards cancer and genetic diseases.”

Curing cancer this isn’t. But Prenetics believes that its tests — which cost less than $500 per patient, but are sold to medical professions directly not end consumers — can help with early diagnoses which, in turn, boosts the potential to beat cancer and other serious illnesses.

“Everything we do is backed up by evidence and lab reports,” Yeung said, when I ask him if Prenetics is vulnerable to the same issues Theranos experienced in the U.S.. “Our sequencing is at a 99.9 percent accuracy and [we’re] using public data to match how people metabolize.”

Prenetics currently has 35 staff, 22 of whom work in its laboratories. Right now, it is hiring for a range of positions — including a CTO, and in business development, medical affairs, operations, and the lab — and it has hooked in with some very strategic investors to help its push.

This Series A round was put together by Ping An Ventures, the VC arm of one of China’s largest insurance groups, with participation from Venturra Capital, an Indonesia-based firm that includes the Lippo Group, an Indonesian super-conglomerate with more than $15 billion in business assets, among its LPs. Existing investors 500 Startups and COENT Venture also took part alongside Capital Union Investments.

Landing those names, and Ping An in particular, is a “validation” of Prenetics’ tech and ambitious, Yeung said, while insurance companies has an obvious interest in improving the medical treatment that patients receive.

“Sequencing your DNA and making sure you’re treated properly is going to be the norm in the next few years. There’s a significant population that needs this kind of testing,” he added.