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UNICEF orders $1.5M in Zika tests from Chembio Diagnostics

Chembio began developing the Zika diagnostic test and

Chembio began developing the Zika diagnostic test and results reader in 2016 with federal funding and collaborators in Brazil.  Credit: Barry Sloan

Chembio Diagnostics Inc. has received a $1.5 million order for its rapid tests for Zika from UNICEF, officials said Wednesday.

The Medford manufacturer of point-of-care tests for HIV, syphilis, Ebola, malaria and other infectious diseases said the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund could potentially order another $2 million in Zika tests.

The blood test can detect antibodies for both active and prior exposure to Zika. The disease causes the birth defect microcephaly, where infants have smaller-than-normal heads.

The contract is substantial for Chembio, which reported revenue of $33.4 million for the year ended December 2018.

“Our Zika system demonstrated outstanding accuracy while offering rapid detection and ease of use through our point-of-care platform and micro [results] reader” compared with lab tests, said Gail Page, the company’s interim CEO.

She said Wednesday that the Zika test has been approved by health regulators in Brazil, one of the country’s hardest hit by the disease, and regulators in Europe. The test also has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, according to a securities filing.

Since 2015 there have been Zika outbreaks in more than 80 countries, including in the United States. The virus takes its name from the Ugandan forest where it was first identified in 1947.

Chembio began developing the Zika diagnostic test and results reader in 2016 with federal funding and collaborators in Brazil. The tests have been used in the Caribbean, South America and Europe, the securities filing states.

The announcement comes about a month after John J. Sperzel III resigned as CEO and the board appointed Page as an interim successor.

Sperzel was hired last month to be CEO of T2 Biosystems Inc., a publicly-traded diagnostics company in Lexington, Massachusetts. Like Chembio, T2’s shares are traded on the Nasdaq Stock Market. T2 has 153 employees compared with Chembio’s 295. Both companies have lost money since 2014.

Two years ago, Sperzel became an advocate for organ donation after undergoing a heart transplant because of a disease that’s been diagnosed only 300 times in more than 100 years. He had giant cell myocarditis and received the emergency transplant on July 8, 2017, in Massachusetts. He lives in Maine.

Chembio shares closed up 25 cents, or 6.6%, to $4.06 on Wednesday.

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