UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence Receives $300K Gift from NY Foundation to Continue Search for Cure

A drug called nikkomycin Z has shown promise in experimental Valley Fever infections.

TUCSON, Ariz. – The Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine has received a $300,000 gift from the JT Tai & Company Foundation for further development of a potential cure for Valley Fever. With this gift, the New York City-based foundation brings its total support over the past four years for this drug-development program to $1.2 million.

Although current treatments for Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) are useful, none cure the disease, and some patients must take medications for life to prevent it from returning, said John N. Galgiani, MD, director of the Valley Fever Center. The same is true for dogs and other companion animals. A drug called nikkomycin Z has shown promise in experimental Valley Fever infections. However, development of the drug stalled nine years ago because no pharmaceutical company was interested in continuing the project, in part because Valley Fever is not a worldwide disease so the drug would be used in a relatively small number of people. Estimates suggest each year about 50,000 people would benefit from a Valley Fever cure, and more than 60 percent of those individuals live in Arizona, mostly in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. Because of this concentration of what is considered a rare disease, these three counties have been dubbed the “Valley Fever Corridor.”

In 2005, the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence assumed sponsorship of nikkomycin Z. Since then, the Center has been awarded $1.6 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Orphan Product Development. Valley Fever Solutions, an Arizona start-up corporation created to help the Valley Fever Center develop nikkomycin Z, has been awarded more than $800,000 from an NIH small-business grant. This funding has enabled the Valley Fever Center to re-start nikkomycin Z development and initiate a safety clinical trial in human subjects. Results of the study should become available in the spring of 2010.

“The support we have gotten from the NIH and the FDA is tremendous,” Dr. Galgiani said. “What makes the JT Tai contributions so special is that they are not earmarked for any specific part of the project, allowing flexible funds to plug holes when we have unexpected costs and to seize opportunities without having to wait for a grant to be reviewed and eventually funded.”

Eventually, a pharmaceutical company or other investment partner will be needed to get nikkomycin Z tested and eventually to market as a new treatment for Valley Fever. Meanwhile, the support from the JT Tai & Company Foundation as well as many other contributions to the project through the UA Foundation, are helping keep this project alive, Dr. Galgiani said.

FREE PUBLIC LECTURE, NOV. 15

A free public lecture on Valley Fever and nikkomycin Z development is scheduled Sunday, Nov. 15, 1 to 4 p.m., at the BIO5 Institute, Room 103, 1657 E. Helen St. This will be the last of several educational activities that will be part of the Valley Fever Awareness Week. For more information and reservations, please call (520) 626-6517, or visit www.vfce.arizona.edu.