Given legally mandated caution on the FDA's side and a natural inclination on the part of manufacturers to stick with a “good enough” product, many have wondered whether a universal flu vaccine will ever reach the market. The emerging consensus seems to be that novel partnerships—in which, perhaps, industry brings the innovation, but government provides the funding—may be able to mitigate the weaknesses on each side. A joint government-industry conference, hosted in 2012 by the FDA and the NIH, concluded that such collaborations offer the best way forward.
“The science is coming along very fast, but we need to figure out how to get to the next step of development,” Subbarao says. Given how quickly the flu virus can mutate—and how suddenly a new lethal virus can leap from animals to people—they had better figure it out fast.