International intrigue at Medford’s Chembio

Changing of the border guard: Medford-based Chembio Diagnostics has made some moves with its roster of international executives.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

With declining Latin American sales contributing to a revenues losing streak, Chembio Diagnostics has shaken up its international rotation.

The Medford-based biotech, which manufactures rapid point-of-care tests for HIV and syphilis, has had its ups and downs, and the latter have largely occurred south of the border. Reporting in March on the 2015 fiscal year, CEO John Sperzel pinned steep revenue and sales drops on a product glut in Mexico and Brazil, deflating demand for Chembio Diagnostics’ sexually transmitted disease-related products.

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Robert Passas: Global veteran.

On Oct. 11, the company went to its corporate bullpen and gave responsibility for the Latin American market to Sharon Klugewicz, who was named president of the Americas region. The promotion, which also puts her in charge of U.S. and Canadian commercial operations, is the latest step up for Klugewicz, a former Pall Corp. senior vice president who joined Chembio Diagnostics in 2012 as a quality-control VP and most recently served as Chembio’s chief operating officer.

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Sharon Klugewicz: Captain Americas.

In an arguably bigger player move, the company added an international heavy hitter in Robert Passas, a UK-trained chemist with a long resume of executive-leadership positions. Passas joined Chembio Diagnostics Oct. 11 as president of its EMEA and APAC regions, taking control of regional sales, marketing and customer support across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asian Pacific.

In announcing the player moves, Sperzel referenced one of Chembio Diagnostics’ higher highs during its revenue-challenged stretch: a $13.2 million federal contract to develop a rapid-test platform for Zika virus and related illnesses, announced in August.

The addition of Passas and promotion of Klugewicz come “at a time when our product portfolio is expanding beyond sexually transmitted disease,” Sperzel said in a statement, noting a pipeline filled with future point-of-care tests for tropical diseases including malaria, dengue, Ebola and others.

“We are delighted to add someone of Bob’s caliber to our commercial leadership team,” the CEO added. “He has significant industry experience in commercial operations, having worked for several of the world’s leading diagnostic companies, and a track record of building highly effective worldwide sales and marketing teams.”

Prior to joining Chembio Diagnostics, Passas served as vice president of worldwide marketing and international sales at Trinity Biotech in upstate Chautauqua County. He previously held executive positions at California diagnostic-healthcare manufacturer Quidel, international diagnostics specialist Abbott and The Binding Site Group, a UK-based global provider of immunoassay assays and instruments.

Passas earned a bachelor’s degree in medical biochemistry and a PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of Surrey in Guildford, England.

While his familiarity with international markets should help Passas face his European/Middle East/Africa and Asia-Pacific challenges, responsibility for the sagging Latin American markets falls squarely on Klugewicz, who is “tasked with … expanding commercial operations throughout Latin America, the U.S. and Canada,” among other duties, Chembio Diagnostics said in a statement.

The expansion beyond sexually transmitted-disease kits – last month, Chembio Diagnostics announced it had received a $330,000 Centers for Disease Control contract for Zika, dengue and Chikungunya testing in India, Peru, Guatemala and Haiti – should help Klugewicz’s Latin American mission.

And Sperzel is confident the new president – who earned a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology from Stony Brook University and a master’s degree in biochemistry from Adelphi University, and also held executive leadership positions throughout Pall Corp.’s Life Sciences division – can lead the recovery.

“Sharon has established a track record of success in a number of areas, including manufacturing, product development, regulatory affairs and quality systems,” the CEO noted. “She has demonstrated the right combination of skills, knowledge and attributes to assume the leadership of commercial operations in the Americas region.”