Kiwi biotech firm seeking clearance for Zika diagnostic

By Aimee Shaw

Ubiquitome test lab in a case.
Ubiquitome test lab in a case.

Kiwi biotech firm Ubiquitome is seeking clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to secure a Zika diagnostic test before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

The Auckland-based company has launched a crowdfunding campaign with the hopes that it will accelerate the manufacture of the FDA-authorised molecular test.

Ubiquitome founder and CEO Dr Paul Pickering says the company wants to minimise the impact of the Zika virus by making it readily available.

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"As organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO) have pointed out, Zika represents a significant threat, particularly to those attending the Rio Olympics in Brazil in August."

Other organisations are also racing to produce a diagnostic test for Zika, but Pickering said he believes people will want the confidence of an authorised test.

"Our desire is to reduce the potential impact of Zika by making a diagnostic test widely available," he said.

"By knowing whether or not they have contracted the virus, people can get treatment and minimise the risk of infecting others."

Ubiquitome CEO Dr Paul Pickering.
Ubiquitome CEO Dr Paul Pickering.

Last year, the developer of real time PCR devices, partnered with IDT and Batelle to develop a test for Ebola that was able to detect pathogens similar to Zika.

Funding for the test will enable existing laboratories to test for the virus, but Pickering said ultimately, he wants to make this testing available in the field by using Ubiquitome's Freedom4 device - a handheld, battery-powered device that enables rapid field deployment of gold standard molecular tests.

"Our Freedom4 device eliminates the need for sample preservation and transportation to a laboratory-based testing facility, enabling it to be brought to remote locations for use during time-sensitive, public health situations."

In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika virus as a public health emergency.

The mosquito-born virus has been linked with an increase in reported cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads.

Graphic / The Economist
Graphic / The Economist

- NZ Herald

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