AUG. 15, 2002
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu

The Valley Fever Vaccine Project of the Americas, a Rotary Club International District 5240 project, has donated $45,000 to the California State University, Bakersfield Foundation to help continue the search for a Valley Fever vaccine.

The money will be used for genomic database support at the San Diego Veterans Administration Medical Center. The genomic research - analyzing sequence information for identifying genes encoding new antigens - is being conducted by one of the project's investigators, Dr. Theo Kirkland of the San Diego VA Medical Center.

"We are very grateful to the members of the Valley Fever Vaccine Project of the Americas for your continued support of the activities of our investigators," said Richard Hector, director of the Valley Fever Vaccine Project, administered by CSUB. "The funds provided by your group are of great importance to insure that we accomplish the overall goals of the project."

"I can't thank the Rotary Club enough for their continued support of this important project," CSUB President Tomas A. Arciniega said. "Their continued support has helped enable the project to make the great strides it has in finding a vaccine for this disease that has affected so many people in the southern San Joaquin Valley."

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.

Since the research project under the auspices of CSUB began in 1997 with its initial grant from the California HealthCare Foundation and an appropriation from the California Legislature, the researchers have moved from looking for potential vaccine candidates to clinical trials.

Hector said the list of antigens has been narrowed to three and efforts are under way to adapt the antigens to methods suitable for pharmaceutical manufacture. "But equally important are the efforts to identify new antigens that will be needed as backups in the event that candidate antigens prove ineffective or cause side effects."

To that end, he said, "the investigators have proposed an expansion of genomic (gene research) efforts in order to take advantage of the DNA sequencing that is being conducted on the Valley Fever fungus. ... The sequencing project was initiated as an exploratory effort within the Valley Fever Vaccine Project just over two years ago, but was not completely funded. Now the project has the opportunity to have access to the entire sequence in order to mine the sequence information for interesting genes that might serve as more potent antigens."

Hector said the significance of the genomic research is that one of the new candidate antigens presently undergoing evaluation was discovered through genomic analysis.

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.

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 this 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.

The five investigators have made great strides in the five years the research has been under way. "Overall, progress is being made on all fronts, support for the project remains strong, and all the project participants remain optimistic that a vaccine can be identified," Hector said.