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Chembio says Zika test applied to Brazil, U.S. specimens

Chembio Dignostics in Medford on Feb. 19, 2014.

Chembio Dignostics in Medford on Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: Heather Walsh

A Medford company has begun trying out its rapid test for the Zika virus on “clinical specimens” from six countries, including Brazil and the United States, officials said Monday.

“Preliminary testing results are highly encouraging,” said Javan Esfandiari, chief science and technology officer at Chembio Diagnostics Inc.

He also said the local company is developing its point-of-care tests with Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz, a unit of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation that is responsible for developing vaccines and diagnostic tools for Brazil’s public health system.

Chembio has worked with Bio-Manguinhos for the past 12 years on blood tests for HIV, syphilis, Leishmaniasis (a parasitic disease) and other illnesses, Esfandiari said.

Last month, Chembio announced it had won a $550,000 grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to develop rapid tests for Zika. Allen is a co-founder of computer software giant Microsoft Corp.

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

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

Chembio chief executive John J. Sperzel said, “We hope to receive additional funding to accelerate the development and testing. It is essential that government, industry and regulatory agencies work together to address the global health emergencies posed by emerging diseases such as Zika virus.”

The company made its announcement before Monday’s stock market opening. Chembio shares closed up 15 cents, or about 3 percent, to $5.69 on the Nasdaq market.

The company is expected to release its fourth quarter and year-end earnings on Tuesday morning.

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