Medford-based Chembio Diagnostics has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen to develop a speedier test for fevers, including Ebola and malaria.
The one-year grant, from a $100 million Allen-funded Ebola eradication program, will cover development costs of a one-shot blood test for malaria, dengue, Ebola, Lassa, Marburg and chikungunya. Chembio chief executive John J. Sperzel said the six illnesses are characterized by a high-grade fever and can be fatal when not treated properly, which is common in many parts of the developing world.
Chembio’s test uses a finger-prick blood sampler and an inexpensive, battery-operated digital device that reads and reports data electronically. Javan Esfandiari, Chembio’s chief science and technology officer predicted the test kits would “become important tools in the battle against emerging disease worldwide.”
The firm’s tests for malaria and Ebola are already in use in West Africa by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has given Chembio three rounds of funding. The company also has been awarded about $400,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Last year’s West Africa Ebola outbreak “exposed significant gaps in the world’s ability to effectively contain emerging infectious diseases,” said Barbara Bennett, the president of Vulcan Inc., the firm Allen uses to dispense his research grants. Vulcan awarded a total of $11 million this week.
Point-of-care diagnostics “were a clear gap in the early days of the Ebola response,” she said. “While the world cannot stop every outbreak, we can apply innovative solutions to more effectively fill the gaps to ensure that the next outbreak doesn’t become the next epidemic.”