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Chembio Diagnostics tapped to develop rapid test for hepatitis C virus

John J. Sperzel, CEO of Chembio Diagnostics, in

John J. Sperzel, CEO of Chembio Diagnostics, in Medford. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Chembio Diagnostics Inc. is one of three companies in the world to be selected to develop a rapid test for the hepatitis C virus by a Swiss not-for-profit, officials announced last weekend.

The Medford-based manufacturer of point-of-care tests for HIV, syphilis, malaria, Ebola and other infectious diseases was chosen by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, or FIND, from proposals submitted earlier this year.

Executives said Chembio and two other businesses will develop hepatitis C tests and demonstrate their feasibility by December, when FIND is expected to choose one business to receive additional funding for further test development and clinical trials.

“Easy-to-use, accurate and affordable diagnostic tests are essential elements in the drive for hepatitis C virus elimination,” said Catharina Boehme, CEO of FIND, which is based in Geneva. “Chembio was selected based on the high sensitivity offered by its [testing] technology, together with the company’s product development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities.”

More than 7 million people across the globe have been infected with hepatitis C, with most in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO reports that about 400,000 people die each year from the virus, mainly from the liver disease that it causes. Eighty percent of those who have the virus are not aware they have it.

Chembio CEO John J. Sperzel said the partnership with FIND allows the company to demonstrate that its testing technology can “serve as a robust platform for the point-of-care detection of hepatitis C virus.”

The announcement came on Saturday, one day after New York State launched a plan to eliminate hepatitis C in the state with an additional $5 million in funding.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York's plan is the first of its kind in the country. It includes a task force of experts and increasing access to medicine and screening. Cuomo said more than 200,000 state residents are infected.

"This holistic, first-in-the-nation approach to eradicating hepatitis C is modeled on our ongoing efforts to end the AIDS epidemic, and will improve the health of many of the most vulnerable among us, including people battling drug addiction," Cuomo said in a statement Friday.  People can contract both hepatitis C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through the use of contaminated needles.

Hepatitis C-related deaths have exceeded HIV-related deaths on Long Island and other regions outside of New York City since 2007, Cuomo said. "With injecting drug use as the most common risk factor, the opioid epidemic has fueled a rise in new hepatitis C cases," he said. 

Chembio shares rose less than 1 percent to close at $11.30 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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