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Work on Valley Fever vaccine for dogs could lead to future human vaccine

Founder and CEO of animal pharmaceuticals company Anivive Dylan Balsz says they're waiting on FDA approval to launch human-based research for a Valley Fever vaccine.
kelly koolmees and her dog michael
Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 10, 2023

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The chances are very good that anyone living in the Central Valley knows someone who has been impacted by Valley Fever. The Centers for Disease Controlestimates 20,000 new cases of Valley Fever are diagnosed each year, and as of now, there is no vaccine to help prevent it. However, there is hope that in the future, that could change. One pet pharmaceutical company is working toward the creation of an animal vaccine for Valley Fever, and they say this could eventually help people.

It doesn't take a lot of exposure to contract Valley Fever. That's what happened to Michael, an 11-year-old chihuahua who caught Valley Fever 8 years ago.

"His results were really high. The titer levels, how they - you know, they take your blood? And his titer level was a 164, which is really high for a 6-pound dog," said Michael's owner Kelly Koolmees.

Koolmees says that at just 2 years old, Michael tested positive for Valley Fever. Since then, the small dog has gone through various fungal medications to battle the infection, losing 23 teeth in the process.

"Two there, itty bitty… two there, and then four canines and that's it. And she [Michael's vet] said 'You added so many years doing that,' and he got so much better again," said Koolmees. "He would not be alive today, because that infection will kill you."

Koolmees says Michael caught the illness in the backyard of their old house, saying she first noticed him coughing and becoming more and more lethargic.

Soon, efforts from a pharmaceutical pet company called Anivive Lifesciences could change the way the illness is treated. Anivive CEO and founder Dylan Balsz says this is a project 7 years in the making.

"Luckily for us, you know, when we ran the clinical studies, we showed efficacy across 3 different dose levels in dogs, and it was 100% effective at preventing clinical disease in these animals," said Balsz.

Balsz says while there are fungal treatments, they are not a permanent solution, and the key is to create a more long-term solution like a vaccine. According to Balsz, the vaccine is set to be released and approved for canine use in the next 9 to 12 months.

According to Balsz, the reason dogs are first in line for the vaccine is because dogs have similar immune systems to humans.

"Dogs are used a lot of times sort of as an analogy for people when it comes to human health care since they get all diseases," explained Balsz. "They get diabetes, cancer, Valley Fever obviously, and at a much higher rate."

Aside from those asking Balsz when the vaccine will be available for people, multiple zoos from both Arizona and California have reached out to Anivive. Balsz says that as of now, they are waiting on FDA approval for human use. For animals and people who are already affected by Valley Fever, Balsz says they are currently unsure how the vaccine would benefit them, but he says Anivive hopes to create a solution in the future.

Koolmees says that while it's unfortunate that this vaccine may not benefit Michael, the progress he's shown throughout the years is enough for her. Michael is still currently going through treatment that consists of regular bloodwork to ensure the infection doesn't come back.

Koolmees says that although Valley Fever is a part of Michael now, it hasn't taken his bright personality. She recounts a moment when she knew Michael was starting to make progress against the illness.

"The vet walked into the room and he growls at her! No one else in the room but her. She sits down beside me and she goes, 'He growled.' I said, 'Oh no!'" Koolmees laughs. "He was feeling better that day, you know? He wanted to - he stood up for himself. He's such a fighter now."