Framingham, MA – March 28, 2023. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an agency of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded a Phase I, $600,000 Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant to Kephera Diagnostics to develop a test for hookworm infection, the company announced today. The grant will support the development and preliminary evaluation of a test that can be used to monitor the level of hookworm infection in populations undergoing mass drug treatment.
Hookworm, a blood-feeding, soil-transmitted helminth parasite infects approximately 500 million people worldwide, including 44 million pregnant women. It was estimated that hookworm caused 3.2 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), accounting for 12.4% of the total disease burden attributed to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), ranking hookworm just after malaria. While hookworm primarily affects lower-middle income countries, it has seen a resurgence in parts of the U.S. in recent years.
To reduce hookworm-associated morbidity, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends targeted or community-based mass drug administration (MDA) with anthelmintic drugs such as albendazole. But it is difficult to measure the success of MDA programs because estimating the prevalence of hookworm in the community currently requires laboratories with microscopy capabilities. The WHO has called for the development of new diagnostic tools to address this need.
Supported by the SBIR grant, Kephera plans to develop a test that will indicate hookworm infection based on detection of antibodies to the parasite in blood samples. The test will be in ELISA format to be easy to integrate into an average, non-specialized laboratory.
“Hookworm continues to be an important and well-recognized public health problem in much of the developing world, but the cumbersome methods currently used to detect infection make it very challenging to determine how effective mass drug administration programs have been, whether there are residual hotspots, and whether drug resistance is emerging. A simple and readily accessible test is much needed. We look forward to the collaboration with Kephera which is aimed at addressing this problem through development and validation of a new test for hookworm infection” said Dr. Michael Cappello, Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, who will be a collaborator under the grant.
“We are very pleased to receive this NIAID award” said Dr. Andrew Levin, Chief Executive Officer of Kephera Diagnostics and Principal Investigator under the grant. “Together with our collaborators at Yale University and in Ghana, we will apply our expertise in diagnostics to provide a solution that will hopefully make a significant contribution to the control of this parasitic disease.”
The grant awarded to Kephera Diagnostics is NIH Award No. 1R43AI174487.
About Kephera Diagnostics
Kephera Diagnostics is a startup that aims to address the public health challenges of global infectious diseases with new point of care assay technology. Our mission is to promote more effective and more affordable medical treatment through faster, point-of-care diagnosis. We collaborate with a global community of researchers to develop and translate new technologies into accessible products for clinical diagnostics and research applications. Kephera has recently been funded for development of new tests for several infectious diseases of global significance.
Andrew Levin, PhD
Chief Executive and Chief Scientific Officer
Kephera Diagnostics, LLC
One Grant St., Suite 300
Framingham, MA 01702 USA