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Professor works with new Valley Fever drug

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Courtesy vickioart.com | The Daily Wildcat

UA professor and director of Valley Fever Center for Excellence Dr. John Galgiani (right) with local Tucsonan Victoria O'Connor (left). Galgiani has worked on an experimental valley fever drug that is being tracked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to be ready for human testing in 2015.

A common disease found in the Southwest region of the U.S. may soon find a cure through the efforts of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the UA.

Coccidioidomycosis, also known as “valley fever” or “cocci,” is an infection caused by the inhalation of airborne fungal spores, specifically the fungus Coccidioides. The fungus is found in the Southwestern region of the U.S., parts of Mexico, Central America and South America, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The California Department of Public Health conducted a study on valley fever and found that “annual hospitalizations related to the condition increased from 1,074 in 2000 to 3,197 in 2011,” according to California Healthline. The study was published by the CDC’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the hospitalization costs for valley fever patients totalled $86 million in 2007.

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“Two thirds of all infections in the United States occur in Arizona … so we really have a problem. It’s a regional disease of the Southwest,” said John N. Galgiani, director for the Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Phoenix. “Maricopa County and Pima County make it much more a disease of Arizona than anywhere else.”

The Valley Fever Center for Excellence convinced the UA that it is crucial for Arizona to find a cure for this disease.

Experimental studies done with infections and laboratory animals have suggested that there might be a newfound treatment called Nikkomycin Z, also referred to as NikZ.

“I’m really confident. I’ve worked with the drug in people, and I’m pretty confident it appears to be safe,” said David E. Nix, PharmD and professor of pharmacy practice and science. “I’ve worked with a lot of drugs in my career, and I haven’t found anything that bothers me at this stage as far as safety goes. The real question is how well it will work for that disease.”

What is currently being used for valley fever is a classic drug called azoles, and the most commonly used is fluconazole, both of which are suppressant drugs, according to Nix.

The experiment conducted involved delaying the treatment of infected laboratory animals. They purposefully waited five days to start the treatment because it is harder to cure, according to Galgiani.

“The way we did the experiment is that we delayed the treatment,” Galgiani said. “We didn’t start the treatment right after the infection but waited for five days, which is a harder kind of infection to treat.”

This drug is now being fast-tracked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has been cleared for human testing in 2015.

“We do the studies to show how well it works, and we give that information to the FDA and we ask them for permission to market it for a specific medical problem,” Galgiani said. “They reveal the data and whether or not it’s sufficiently convincing that that indication is created.”

Galgiani and his team said they would like to do a study in which they treat people with early infections, which they want to conduct in fall 2015. They said they want to see if they can make the treatment better and quicker.

“Now what we’re doing is we want to get these studies done in 2015 that will look at the drug and people who actually have valley fever,” Nix said. “At that point, you start looking at, well, how well does the drug work, and is there a signal that tells us it’s helping those people?”

If they find an investment partner, Galgiani said he predicts the cure will be on the market within five years.

Nationally, about 160 people die of this disease every year, according to Galgiani.

“It’s a very important problem in Arizona,” Galgiani said, “and the more that know about it, the better.”

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