$4.8 million grant for Valley Fever vaccine has doctor, patient - Tucson News Now

$4.8 million grant for Valley Fever vaccine has doctor, patient excited

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The pair has gotten to know each other.

One is the patient, Joshua Wilson, who is dealing with a diagnosis. It started with routine headaches and fever, and Wilson made several trips to the emergency room. Then, after a cross country trip for the Georgia native, the Tucson resident was in pain.

"I went immediately to the hospital. I was there for a week on oxygen, and lost close to 40 pounds," Wilson said. He was diagnosed with Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) in April 2016.

The other is the expert. Dr. John Galgiani specializes directly in the uniqueness of the respiratory illness.

"We're tailoring the treatment to be just right for what they have," said Galgiani, the Director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence (VFCE) at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "I've been particularly interested in this. In fact, 21 years ago I convinced the Arizona Board of Regents that we needed a Valley Fever Center for Excellence, focused on this one disease."

Now, Dr. Galgiani and his team have the green light. "The vaccine is a long-term play to try to prevent the disease completely," he said.

The VFCE has been awarded a four-year, $4.8 million grant for research to speed development of a vaccine to combat Valley Fever, according to a news release from the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

The funding comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and aims to enable development of a live, yet safe, vaccine to prevent this fungal disease, the news release stated.

The sometimes deadly respiratory illness, Valley Fever, caused by spores found in soils of the U.S. Southwest. According to Dr. Galgiani, two-thirds of Valley Fever infections in the United States occur in Arizona.

"We see it as sort of the Valley Fever Corridor, between Pinal, Pima, and Maricopa Counties," Galgiani said. "It's seasonal, and the season is when things are dry - after the monsoon is over, and in late spring and early summer before monsoon."

Each year in the U.S., Valley Fever is responsible for 50,000 illnesses, according to the news release. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are more than 150 deaths associated with Valley Fever each year, with a cost of half a billion dollars in health care and lost productivity.

For Wilson, that meant not doing what he loves. His life as a recording artist in Tucson had to be put on hold.

"It's pretty heart-wrenching. That's my outlet. I started recording when I was younger - when I was 14. I'm 29 now. That's my voice," he said. "Not being able to express myself in the way that I'm used to is definitely depressing."

The 29-year-old Air Force active duty serviceman was also unable to stay physically fit.

Worst of all, Wilson shared the same illness as his dog. The 2-year-old pit bull contracted Valley Fever, and he had no idea until it was too late. She had to be put down.

"She had no symptoms. She was a pit bull, so she was super energetic. Next thing we know, that energy went. We ended up spending thousands of dollars trying to save her life. It was just too far."

The vaccine candidate is known as delta-CPS1 and was invented at the University of Arizona, the news release stated. It was first successfully tested in mice, according to Galgiani.

He said the VFCE will use the money to develop a Valley Fever vaccine to be used in dogs, which will hopefully lead to a successful human vaccine.

He called it a "strategic decision."

"It's easier to get a vaccine approved for veterinary use," Galgiani said. "It's a live vaccine, so safety will be a big issue when it goes to the FDA. It's not as big an issue in veterinary applications."

Dr. Galgiani is optimistic that they will have a vaccine for dogs in the next four or five years.

"It'll be a next step, how long it will take to get into humans - it will depend on if we can partner with a vaccine manufacturer to help us do that."

Wilson is welcoming the wait, hoping others won't suffer the same way.

"Having to go through all of this, now it's been over a year. Putting pills down your mouth for over a year - after a while, it gets to where it's sickening."

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