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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Researchers working to develop Valley Fever cure

    UA researchers are developing a drug that could cure valley fever, a disease that plagues the Southwest.

    The drug, nikkomycin z, was first developed in the 1970s, and since the BIO5 Institute at the UA acquired it in 2005, it has been working on clinical trials for valley fever, a lung disease caused by inhaling fungus spores that grow in the soil.

    Nikkomycin z was granted orphan drug status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month, and BIO5 member John Galgiani said he hopes this means funding from the federal government.

    Orphan status is given to a drug that helps less than 200,000 people per year, and the Orphan Drug Act of 1983 allows the federal government to aid in the development of these specialized drugs.

    Nikkomycin z started to undergo clinical trials in the 1980s and ’90s, but they had to stop because the pharmaceutical company in control of it at that time went bankrupt, said Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence.

    The development of this drug is important because Arizonans are disproportionately affected by valley fever, with almost two-thirds of the infections in the U.S. coming from Arizona, Galgiani said.

    “”If we’re awarded support from the proposals, that would make a big different on whether the drug gets developed or not,”” Galgiani said.

    Although many people in Arizona may have valley fever, nikkomycin z would only be used to treat those exhibiting symptoms at the time, Galgiani said.

    Funding is also available for drug development from the National Institutes of Health, private donors and charitable organizations as well, if for some reason the FDA is not able to provide funding.

    “”This would be a project that could help the whole state if it gets developed,”” Galgiani said.

    The drugs that are currently available can only help control the progression of the disease but cannot actually kill the fungus in the lungs. Nikkomycin z has shown promising results in experimental studies on mice, eradicating the fungus spores from their lungs, according to a press release.

    As a land-grant institution, the UA has a mission to help the people in this state, Galgiani said.

    Over 150,000 new cases of valley fever are diagnosed in Arizona each year, making it a public health issue in Arizona.

    The BIO5 Institute is a research facility that joins scientists from five fields: agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, basic science and engineering to solve complex biological issues.

    One of the missions that BIO5 focuses on is benefiting the public by turning research into commercial applications, said Vicki L. Chandler, BIO5 Director.

    “”It is important that we also focus some of our efforts on initiative that have tangible benefits for the citizens of Arizona,”” Chandler stated in a press release.

    Valley fever is acquired by people who breathe in coccidiodes fungal spores, which naturally occur in the soil around rodent burrows. Dust and wind can carry the spores, which settle into the lungs when inhaled and can cause serious health problems, including cough, chest pain, fatigue and rash. In some cases it can be fatal, but it is not a contagious disease.

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