NOV. 6, 2002
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu

The Valley Fever Research Project coordinated by California State University, Bakersfield has crossed a new threshold, project director Richard Hector said Wednesday.

The project has contracted with the Colorado Bioprocessing Center at Colorado State University to clone particular antigens identified by project researchers to produce the antigens in larger quantities for further testing and research.

"This marks a major change," Hector told the Council of 100 at its Wednesday meeting at CSUB. The Council of 100 is a group of area business and community leaders who meet quarterly with CSUB officials to learn of the resources the university can provide. "This marks a change from a research process to a developmental process."

The contract with Colorado State University will help "determine the optimal conditions under which the producing host should be grown and the resultant protein antigen purified, Hector said. The process will provide a recipe for manufacturing. This is a pilot manufacturing process with the goal of developing a method that can be transferred and scaled for a commercial process."

The valley fever project has come a long way since it began in 1997, to the point where Hector is optimistic that it will eventually produce a vaccine. "Will there be a vaccine?" he asked rhetorically? "Yes, but it will require time, effort, funds - and to a certain extent luck. What's the time frame? Our short-term goal is to have a phase-one vaccine - one for preliminary trials - by 2004. But I don't want to mislead anyone about a vaccines availability any time soon, because this is a long path.

Hector said that the five scientists searching for a vaccine have developed two approaches. "The main approach is cloning antigens," he said. "We have found three antigens that have potential as a human vaccine. We're also studying the genomics, examining what the fungus's gene function is."

The genomic research - analyzing sequence information for identifying genes encoding new antigens - is being conducted by one of the project's investigators at the San Diego Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Recently, The Valley Fever Vaccine Project of the Americas, a Rotary Club International District 5240 project, donated $45,000 to the CSUB Foundation for genomic database support at the San Diego VA Medical Center.

The Rotary Club's Valley Fever Vaccine Project of the Americas was begun in 1995 by a group of Rotarians who were determined that promising vaccine research should be funded. The specific and primary purpose for which the corporation was formed is to engage in charitable activities and the solicitation of funds sufficient to fund the research, development and clinical testing of a vaccine for Valley Fever.

Valley Fever is caused by a fungus, coccidioides immitis, which exists in the soil in various areas of the American Southwest, northern Mexico and Central and South America that have arid or semiarid conditions and hot summers with mild, non-freezing winters. Kern County, southern Arizona, and parts of West Texas have particularly high incidence rates for the disease.

The disease has been recognized as a significant medical entity since the 1890s, and its association with the San Joaquin Valley, particularly Kern County, was realized during the first three decades of the 20th century.

The Valley Fever Vaccine Project began in 1997 after a major Valley Fever outbreak from 1991 through 1994 renewed interest in vaccine development. Members of the Bakersfield business and medical communities formed the Valley Fever Research Foundation to develop a plan to hasten vaccine development. They enlisted the Center for Biomedical Research at CSUB and its director, Duane Blume, to conduct a feasibility study on the potential for a vaccine. Blume's study concluded that prospects were excellent and would be greatly enhanced by a collaborative research program by the five leading scientists in Valley Fever research:

Dr. Garry Cole, professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.

Dr. Rebecca Cox, adjunct professor of microbiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center and director of the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease.

Dr. John Galgiani, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and founder and director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Theo Kirkland III, assistant director of the microbiology laboratory and a staff physician at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Diego, a member of the Center of Molecular Genetics at the University of California, San Diego, and associate professor of pathology and medicine in residence, Division of Infectious Diseases at UCSD.

Dr. Demosthenes Pappagianis, professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine.

"This is a chronic, insidious disease, a terrible disease," Hector said. "Through the efforts of people here at CSUB and in Bakersfield we're optimistic that we will develop a vaccine."