What's the Latest Development?
Several pharmaceutical companies are getting closer to marketing a universal flu vaccine which could replace the annual autumn flu shot and prove more effective. Designing a flu vaccine is notoriously difficult because the virus can morph quickly, thus fooling the immune system. But the company BiondVax has tested a vaccine which arms the body against all strains by isolating nine characteristics that remain constant across all types of flu. In a clinical trial, the vaccine vastly outperformed the placebo vaccine.
What's the Big Idea?
Preventing the seasonal flu is one small aim of a universal flu vaccine. Flu pandemics like the H1N1 virus of 2009 have already threatened large populations and the United Nations announced in August that a new strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus is currently menacing Asia. "It's almost inevitable that another pandemic will come," says Dr. Antonio Lanzavecchia of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. If the bird flu virus gains the capacity to spread from human to human, it could decimate the world population.