In 1996, the Arizona Board of Regents established the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the UA to address problems created by the fungus, Coccidioides, the cause of Valley fever. Some cases are mild, others so severe that it spreads past the lungs. It also affects animals, including pets and livestock. The center works to spread public awareness and education about Valley fever, promote high-quality care for the disease and pursue research to improve treatment therapies and develop a vaccine. To learn more, visit vfce.arizona.edu.
The Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson has been awarded a four-year, $4.8 million grant for research to speed development of a vaccine to combat Valley fever, the sometimes-deadly respiratory illness caused by Coccidioides spores found in soils of the Southwest.
The funding comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, a unit of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, and aims to enable development of a live, yet safe, vaccine to prevent this fungal disease (also known as coccidioidomycosis, or cocci).
"We are very excited to receive this award,” said Dr. John N. Galgiani, principal investigator on the project, a UA professor of medicine and the center's founding and current director. "This reflects the scientific validity of our plans, and the funds will greatly accelerate the vaccine's development."
The live vaccine candidate, known as delta-CPS1, was invented at the UA. It was developed by a multidisciplinary team of co-investigators on this and prior grants led by Marc J. Orbach, a fungal geneticist and professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In addition to Galgiani, the team also includes Jeffrey Frelinger, professor of immunobiology, and Dr. Lisa Shubitz, an associate research professor at the center with a dual appointment in the College of Medicine – Tucson and the CALS School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. The vaccine already has protected mice from Valley fever.
The research goal is to test and possibly license the vaccine in dogs to protect them from contracting Valley fever. Anivive Lifesciences Inc., a California-based biotechnology company, has licensed the vaccine from the UA through Tech Launch Arizona and will provide additional investment and expertise to fully develop the dog vaccine. Tech Launch is the UA's commercialization arm, helping transform UA innovations and discoveries into intellectual property, inventions and technology through licensing agreements with private industry. The UA's BIO5 Institute also has assisted in the translational project.
Scientists at Colorado State University also are collaborating on the project through CSU's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the lab of Dr. Richard A. Bowen. If proved safe and effective in dogs, the next step probably would be evaluation and possible approval of a vaccine to prevent Valley fever in humans.
"The awarding of this grant to Dr. Galgiani's group will serve to help us advance the introduction of a vaccine for both man and animals to prevent this truly devastating disease," said Dr. David Bruyette, chief medical officer at Anivive Lifesciences.
The award comes on the heels of a $2.7 million NIH/NIAID grant the center also received for collaborative work to understand the human genetics behind susceptibility to the worst forms of Valley fever (supported by NIAID under Award No. U01AI122275). That research addresses the question of why some people get so sick from this fungus while others' immune systems are able to control it, resulting in only a mild illness, if any at all. These efforts could lead to precision medicine solutions specific to an individual at risk and possible new approaches to treatment by immunologic response modifiers.
With more than 90 percent of U.S. human infection cases occurring in Arizona and California, Valley fever is the most significant fungal public health problem in the Southwest. Each year, Valley fever is responsible for 50,000 illnesses and more than 150 deaths, with a cost of half a billion dollars in health care and lost productivity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current therapies for more severe instances of the disease are not curative and may need to be continued for life.