February 18, 2004
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456 or mstepanovich@csub.edu

Scientists with the Valley Fever Vaccine Project, administered by California State University, Bakersfield Foundation, announced today that they have selected a candidate for a Valley Fever vaccine after four years of intensified research at five research centers around the country.

The development was outlined today during a meeting of project directors, one of the scientists involved in the research, U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas and the CSUB Foundation Board of Directors.

“We have great news,” Dr. Richard Hector, director of the Valley Fever Vaccine Project, told a gathering of 50 people in the Dezember Leadership Development Center on the CSUB campus. “A vaccine is at hand.” Hector’s presentation was interrupted by spontaneous applause.

The project directors announced that as a result of successful experimental results, including primate trials evaluating the candidate vaccine, they are at the point of initiating the pharmaceutical development, with the goal of testing the vaccine in humans. As a first step, the project has recently entered into an agreement with the University of Nebraska to “develop the fermentation and purification of the vaccine under consideration for the human clinical trials,” Hector said.

“We believe that we have identified the antigens we want to take forward. The antigens are not the entirety of what constitutes a vaccine, but they are the critical component. The combination of the research data plus the recent results from the primate trial brought us to a decision point. Even though the trial is still in progress, the results to date are convincing enough to validate our choice of the antigens. This is very good news."

During the meeting Thomas, R-Bakersfield, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was recognized by the CSUB Foundation board for the $750,000 grant providing funding for the project through the Centers for Disease Control. These funds will be used exclusively for the early phases of the pharmaceutical development of the vaccine, critical to achieving the goal of planned human testing.

Also attending the meeting were Dr. George Rutherford of the University of California, San Francisco, who has been involved with the project since its inception; 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, and one of the five principal scientists on the project; and Dr. Duane Blume, retired CSUB biology professor whose feasibility study more than a decade ago lead to the formation of the Valley Fever Vaccine Project.

Since the beginning of the research project under the auspices of the CSUB Foundation in 1997, with its initial grant from the California HealthCare Foundation and an appropriation from the California Legislature, the researchers have been working towards the goal of moving potential vaccine candidates from the research phase to clinical trials.

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 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: