Massachusetts Launches a $1 Million Grant Challenge to Create an ‘Ebola Test’

Plus: Dr. Richard Sacra is returning to West Africa.

Governor Deval Patrick and President & CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Susan Windham-Bannister, Ph.D., announce $1 million challenge grant.

Governor Deval Patrick announces the grant. Photo provided.

While local doctors like Boston Medical Center’s Nahid Bhadelia are traveling to Sierra Leone to help fight the Ebola epidemic, Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) announced a project that will help the fight the battle at home.

In a press conference Tuesday, Patrick and the MLSC announced a $1 million challenge grant that will support a “partnership of life sciences companies, NGO’s, and academic institutions, led by Diagnostics For All, that is working to develop an improved, fast and accurate diagnostic test for Ebola.”

The goal is to fast-track an Ebola diagnostic tool and have it launch within the next six months, because current tests are time and labor intensive and not sensitive enough to detect the virus when early symptoms begin.

The partnership involves a plethora of institutions including: Diagnostics For All (DFA); Harvard University; the Broad Institute; UMass Medical School; GE Healthcare; Cambridge Consultants; Eiken; BBI Solutions; IMPACT Technology Development; and WellBody Alliance in Sierra Leone.

“As the world’s leader in life sciences, Massachusetts has a unique global platform for bringing innovations from the drawing board to the patient, from inspiration to commercialization, and from ideas to cures,” Governor Patrick said at the press conference. “Through this investment and the work of the partnership, Massachusetts will play a central role in developing technologies that can control the spread of Ebola and save many lives as a result, in Africa and here in the United States.”

According to a report by MLSC:

The MLSC will provide the partnership with a $1 million challenge grant with the goal of delivering a field-robust product for test use in six months. The grant establishes a target for the partnership to raise an additional $4.5 million, and Diagnostics For All is in detailed discussions with several parties for this amount.

Most molecular diagnostic technology requires instrumentation and laboratory procedures, whereas Diagnostics for All’s device will incorporate the biological, mechanical and electronic aspects of a molecular diagnostic into a single disposable device. The device will accept a single finger-stick of blood and provide a clear “yes/no” response in 45 minutes.

At the press conference, Dr. Richard Sacra, the Bay State doc who was recently cured of Ebola, told the AP that he’s returning to Liberia in January, where he has worked for more than 20 years.

“Rapid testing at the point of care will make a huge difference for the triage process in West Africa, and may well save hundreds of lives in the first month it is available,” Sacra said at the press conference. “In many facilities, where lab testing for Ebola is not available, it requires burdensome specimen transport and diagnostic results are often delayed, sometimes over 24 hours, which this rapid diagnostic technology would avoid. “