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Much-Anticipated Valley Fever Clinical Trial Fails Due To Lack Of Enrollment

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Facebook page of Congressman Kevin McCarthy
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Congressman Kevin McCarthy, center, along with Dr. Royce Johnson, third from right, and other Kern Medical staff and valley fever advocates announced the FLEET study in October 2016.

In 2018, Kern County’s caseload of the fungal disease valley fever rose for the fourth year in a row, health officials recently announced. Simultaneously, a much-anticipated clinical trial related to the disease failed.

It was called the FLEET study, and it examined the effectiveness of early treatment on the course of the disease. Over a five-year period, researchers had hoped to enroll 1,000 patients. But about a year in, they only had 72. The trial was officially terminated last July.

Dr. Royce Johnson is director of Kern Medical’s Valley Fever Institute, which participated in the study. “I knew it would not be easy to enroll to this study based on the entry criteria and the exclusions, which were many,” he says.

For one, the study called for participants who had been recently diagnosed with community acquired pneumonia, which Johnson says is declining. And it involved regular exams and blood draws. “The main reason people didn’t want to participate in the study is it took too much time,” he says.

The study came about thanks to $5 million in federal funding secured in part by Congressman Kevin McCarthy. However, many disease advocates opposed the study, arguing it was redundant because the main drug being tested is already in use as one of the first lines of defense against the disease.

Meanwhile, the Valley Fever Institute and its partners are taking part in a similar research project called the SAnds Study. Johnson says it also focuses on early treatment of the disease, though it’s an observational study and not a randomized clinical trial.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Valley Fever Institute and its partners "launched" the SAnds Study.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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