TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A cure for Valley Fever could be on the horizon because the process just got a boost from the Food and Drug Administration.
Valley Fever is a disease that occurs almost exclusively in the Southwest, especially here in Arizona.
It can be treated, but there is no cure.
Some people don't even notice they have it.
Others can become so ill they have to be on medication the rest of their lives.
In some cases Valley Fever can be fatal.
The spores that cause Valley Fever live in the soil of Arizona.
Inhale the fungus, and you could get sick.
The University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence has been working on a possible cure, the anti-fungal drug nikkomycin Z (NikZ).
In a new milestone, the FDA has put NikZ on the fast track.
That's a huge step that puts a possible cure within reach.
Dr. John Galgiani heads the UA Valley Fever Center For Excellence and is the project leader for the NikZ development team.
"The people who would benefit the most from this would be the people of Arizona," Galgiani says.
"Two-thirds of all U.S. Infections occur in our state, and most of that is is up and down Interstate 10, from here in Tucson up to Phoenix."
"One out of three pneumonias is caused by Valley Fever in Tucson," Galgiani adds.
With FDA fast-track status, once the scientists think the drug is ready for market, the FDA puts it at the head of line to get the testing confirmed and, if all goes well, get the drug to patients.
NikZ has been tested in some people, but the main clinical trials are still waiting.
"And those will get done about as fast a we have money to do them. We're still looking for a pharmaceutical partner to help us with that," Galgiani says.
Valley Fever is called an orphan disease because not a lot of patients are sick at any one time.
Many pharmaceutical companies can't see spending the approximately one billion dollars to develop a drug for an orphan disease.
However, most of the work has been done already.
Galgiani says that, along with fast-track status, and a guarantee that the investor would have exclusive rights to make the drug for a dozen years, look attractive to a pharmaceutical company.
The hope is that all of this leads to what Arizonans have been waiting for.
"The drug potentially cures the infection, Valley Fever. The current drugs we have that we use every day now are very useful, but they never get rid of the fungus. They put it to sleep, essentially. We hope that this drug will have the effect of actually eradicating the infection altogether," Galgiani says.
He believes, once the university gets an investment partner, and if the drug works, NikZ it could win FDA approval in about five years.
Dr. Galgiani says nikkomycin Z has been tested in dogs that also can get very sick with Valley Fever.
He says the drug does make them feel better, but he doesn't know yet if it cures them.
Meanwhile, Galgiani's team has not given up on a Valley Fever vaccine.
He hopes eventually to have one that will keep us from getting Valley Fever in the first place.