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Chembio hopes for speedy trial of rapid Ebola test

Chembio chief executive John Sperzel at the company

Chembio chief executive John Sperzel at the company lab in Medford on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A Medford company hopes to begin a trial of its rapid test for Ebola by March 31 in West Africa, the epicenter of the deadly disease, officials said.

Chembio Diagnostics Inc. has applied for permission from the World Health Organization after successfully testing its point-of-care technology in a federal laboratory in Atlanta.

Chembio also said it had signed a research agreement with the lab's operator, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The local company already makes rapid tests for HIV and syphilis.

Chembio began work on the Ebola test in October after partnering with Integrated BioTherapeutics Inc., a Maryland-based biotechnology company that possesses Ebola antibodies.

John J. Sperzel, chief executive of Chembio, said this week that the partnership had shortened development time of the Ebola test.

"Our goal is to . . . begin testing in West Africa during the first quarter of 2015, for which we are on track," he said.

A rapid test could allow for quicker diagnosis. The tests can be performed at doctors' offices, clinics and in rural villages. Currently, samples must be taken from patients and transported to a hospital or laboratory in a city for testing.

Test results would be known in minutes, not hours or days. And patients wouldn't have to travel far to be diagnosed, Sperzel said.

Ebola, in its latest outbreak, has claimed 8,429 lives in West Africa, though the number of new cases has declined, according to the WHO. There have been two deaths in the United States so far, according to reports.

Chembio and Integrated BioTherapeutics are also working on a rapid test for febrile illnesses, which are characterized by high fever, also a trait of Ebola.

Chembio employs about 160 people at operations in Medford and Holbrook.

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