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Kephera Diagnostics Wins $606K NIH Grant to Develop Test for Congenital Chagas Disease

NEW YORK — Kephera Diagnostics said Tuesday that it has been awarded a two-year National Institutes of Health grant worth $606,498 to help fund the development of a point-of-care test for congenitally transmitted Chagas disease.

According to the Framingham, Massachusetts-based company, Chagas disease is primarily spread via insect vectors, which pass along the disease-causing parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. However, the disease can also be transmitted congenitally, which is believed to be the primary way it spreads in the US.

Congenital Chagas disease can be treated using two drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for pediatric use, but it is often asymptomatic in infants, Kephera said. When symptoms are present in newborns, they frequently resemble those of various other infections.

With the grant funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Kephera aims to develop a blood test that measures levels of immunoglobulin M to specific T. cruzi antigens, as these antibodies are believed to be the first to appear in blood in response to infection and can be differentiated from maternal antibodies.

"The award of this grant to Kephera will enable us to fill one of the important gaps in the control of Chagas disease, which is the ability to diagnose infection acquired congenitally at the point of delivery," Kephera CEO Andrew Levin said in a statement. "An accurate diagnostic test that can be performed while a newborn is still in the hospital will facilitate earlier treatment, breaking the generational cycle of infection toward long-term impact on communities at risk for this disease."

Founded in 2016, Kephera has been developing a menu of immunoassays for infectious diseases with the help of millions of dollars of federal grant funding including ones for Zika virus infection, Taenia solium tapeworm-related neurocysticercosis and taeniasis, Lyme disease, liver fluke infection, and hookworm infection.

Last year, it won a $3 million NIH grant to work on a point-of-care test for parasitic Chagas disease.