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Chembio Diagnostics awarded $550G grant for Zika virus test

Kathleen Addiss, a scientist at Chembio Diagnostics Inc.,

Kathleen Addiss, a scientist at Chembio Diagnostics Inc., uses a pipette to introduce a blood sample for a DPP test for HIV-Syphilis on Oct. 24, 2014. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A Medford company has been awarded a $550,000 grant to develop a rapid test for the Zika virus and similar illnesses, officials announced Friday.

Chembio Diagnostics Inc. said it has been awarded a “catalyst grant” from Paul G. Allen, co-founder of software giant Microsoft Corp. The money comes from his charity, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which has previously supported Chembio’s research efforts.

Officials said Chembio will develop a stand-alone test to detect Zika and another to detect Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses. The company also will add Zika to a six-virus blood test that is in development and received $2.1 million last year from the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program.

“We are well-positioned to act quickly, given our ongoing collaborations with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brazil’s Ministry of Health and the global scientific community,” said Chembio chief science officer Javan Esfandiari.

Dr. Sandra Laney, innovation director for Allen’s Vulcan Philanthropy, said, “This work is an example of how the lessons from the recent Ebola crisis are sparking innovations in how the global health community tackles outbreaks.”

Last year, Chembio developed point-of-care tests for malaria and Ebola that are now in use in West Africa.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes and was first identified in 1947. More recently, there have been outbreaks of the virus in French Polynesia and Brazil, with women giving birth to babies with microcephaly — or unusually small heads — and brain damage.

Chembio’s shares rose 28 cents Friday to close at $5.37 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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