The Valley Fever Center for Excellence (VFCE) 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 U.S. Southwest.
The funding comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a unit of the National Institutes of Health (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 John N. Galgiani, MD, 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 vaccine candidate is known as delta-CPS1 and was invented at the UA. The research goal is to test and possibly license this 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 this 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 BIO5 Institute also has assisted in this translational project.
Scientists at Colorado State University also are collaborating on this project through CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the lab of Richard A. Bowen, DVM, PhD. If proven safe and effective in dogs, the next step likely 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 David Bruyette, DVM, DACVIM, chief medical officer at Anivive Lifesciences.
This recent award comes on the heels of a $2.7 million NIH/NIAID grant the VFCE 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 other’s 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 this disease are not curative and may need to be continued for life.