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Annual flu shots might soon become a thing of the past, and threats such as avian and swine flu might disappear with them as a vaccine touted as the "holy grail" of flu treatment could be ready for human trials next year.
That's earlier than the National Institutes of Health estimated in 2010, when they said a universal vaccine could be five years off. By targeting the parts of the virus that rarely mutate, researchers believe they can develop a vaccine similar to the mumps or measles shot—people will be vaccinated as children and then receive boosters later.
"It's like putting up a tent over your immune system that protects against rapidly mutating viruses," Kim says. At least two other companies are working on a similar vaccine. In late 2010, Inovio earned a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to work on the vaccine.
Inovio is working on vaccines that'll protect against other strains, such as H3N2, which is seen in a newly-emerged swine flu virus. Those vaccines will be combined with the already-developed H1N1 and H5N1 vaccines to be delivered in one shot by the 2013 flu season. Researchers are taking a similar approach to HIV vaccine development, but working on the flu might be easier.