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UA spinoff gets $3M for valley fever work

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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A drug company spun off by University of Arizona researchers has been awarded $3 million by the National Institutes of Health to continue development of a cure for valley fever, which sickens 150,000 people yearly, two-thirds of them in Arizona.

Valley Fever Solutions Inc. is an outgrowth of the UA's Valley Fever Center for Excellence. It was created in 2008, in part to gain regulatory approval for nikkomycin Z, or Nik Z, a promising cure for the ailment.

Dr. John Galgiani, director of the center and chief medical officer for the company, said the money will be used over the next year to begin producing the drug with a new process that should make it more economical.

"We're essentially out of (the) drug," said Galgiani. "We need to make more and make it cheaper than we made it before." Research by Galgiani and partners in UA's Bio5 Research Center should make that possible, he said.

The grant from the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities will then fund two years' of clinical trials. Galgiani said the company plans to advertise for people with valley fever to identify them early in the disease cycle.

Valley fever, a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal disease, is often misdiagnosed.

It is caused by a fungus, coccidioidomycosis, that thrives in semiarid areas of the Southwest. The spores spread when soil is disturbed and blown by wind.

In severe cases, it spreads from the lungs to the joints, the brain and the spinal cord, sometimes resulting in meningitis. It is responsible for about 30 deaths a year in Arizona.

The grant is "a huge deal," said Galgiani. "I actually hadn't let myself think about what would happen if this didn't come through."

Galgiani's center, part of the UA's Bio5 Research Center, acquired the rights to manufacture Nik Z in 2005. The drug, which began to show promise in the 1990s, was deemed an "orphan drug" because it is not attractive to pharmaceutical manufacturers, who would have to spend more money developing it than they could ever recoup.

Contact:
Tom Beal at 573-4158
tbeal@azstarnet.com

 

© Copyright 2010, Arizona Daily Star

Author: By Tom Beal
Source: The Arizona Daily Star
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2.0 from 1 vote
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