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Universal flu vaccine may be on horizon

It's an annual autumn rite for many: trooping to the doctor's office or pharmacy for the jab that might stave off sniffles and aches during the flu season.

Scientists would love to make this ritual history, if only they could come up with a flu vaccine that would work for many years, instead of one. The problem is that influenza is a wily opponent — every year it wears a new disguise, foiling the body's immune system as well as the medical profession's attempts to stifle it. In designing the annual shot, scientists must guess what strain of influenza will be prevalent in the upcoming season.

Scientists around the world are working to craft a universal flu vaccine that would train the immune system to identify and destroy flu, no matter what type it is. The key is to make a vaccine using the unchanging parts of the virus — its Achilles' heel, says Dr. Antonio Lanzavecchia, an immunologist at ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

That could happen by 2016, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said in July.

A couple of companies have already tested their formulations in people. BiondVax Pharmaceuticals in Ness Ziona, Israel, is working on a vaccine that could be ready as early as 2014, predicts Wayne Rudolph, the company's vice president for corporate development. Seek, a drug development company in London, hopes to have a market-ready product in three to five years, says Chief Executive Gregory Stoloff.
 
 

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