A Medford company has won a $2.1 million grant from the co-founder of computer software giant Microsoft Corp. to develop a rapid test for six fever illnesses, including Ebola and malaria.
Chembio Diagnostics Inc. said Wednesday it will use the one-year grant from the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program to develop an all-in-one blood test to detect malaria, dengue, Ebola, Lassa, Marburg and chikungunya. Allen co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975.
Chembio chief executive John J. Sperzel said the six illnesses are characterized by a high-grade fever and can be fatal when not treated appropriately. In many parts of the world, these diseases are commonly misdiagnosed, resulting in delayed treatment or failure to properly treat the underlying infection, he said.
"We plan to have this fever panel [test] in the field in 12 months" for testing, Sperzel said in an interview. "We are well on our way because this builds on our work with malaria and Ebola."
Chembio's point-of-care tests for malaria and malaria/Ebola are being tried out in West Africa by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said other companies have introduced rapid tests for a single disease but Chembio stands out for its combination tests. It also has tests for HIV and syphilis, and a combination HIV/syphilis test.
Sperzel said the funding announced Wednesday represents Chembio's largest single grant. It follows a six-month grant of between $300,000 and $400,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Chembio also has received three rounds of funding from the CDC.
The grants "help secure jobs at our Long Island headquarters," Sperzel said. The company has 150 employees; 35 work in research and development.
The Chembio grant was one of seven, totaling $11 million, announced Wednesday by Allen's Ebola eradication program. A year ago, Allen pledged $100 million to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. His Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. administers the grants.
The West Africa Ebola outbreak "exposed significant gaps in the world's ability to effectively contain emerging infectious diseases," Vulcan president Barbara Bennett said.
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."
Shares of Chembio rose 16 cents Wednesday, or 3.8 percent, to close at $4.36.