Moncef Slaoui pivots from Moderna's board to the helm of Project Warp Speed. His task: Overnight success
Moncef Slaoui stepped off Moderna’s board of directors on Friday and pivoted straight into the high profile role heading the Trump administration’s Project Warp Speed, where he’ll be in charge of accelerating Moderna’s — and others — vaccines to a rapid release for a pandemic weary world.
The news became official mid-day Friday after numerous reports earlier that he had been picked off the short list of candidates.
Slaoui’s role on Moderna’s board earned a compensation package valued at $490,000 last year, something consumer advocates quickly fixed on as a conflict of interest. It’s unlikely that critics will be satisfied by Slaoui’s resignation, though Moderna has already done quite well for itself without any added help from Slaoui. The biotech has benefited extensively from major support from BARDA and the NIH and will continue to enjoy close contacts in Washington, including at the FDA.
As the lead developer in the US of a new vaccine, Moderna also offers the White House a Boston-based company that can potentially provide a US hero to resolve the pandemic. So it’s likely Trump’s favorite player with or without Slaoui’s involvement.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel is part of a small band of vaccines execs who believes it’s possible to do something that would have been considered impossible at the beginning of the year: hustle a new vaccine straight through a Phase I-III program in a matter of months and come up with just enough pivotal efficacy and safety data to start distribution in the fall.
While billions of people eagerly want that, there’s also been some significant pushback from a variety of experts in the field who wonder if it’s really feasible to be able to field a Covid-19 vaccine in less than 2 years — in itself something of a miracle in a sector where development can take years and sometimes decades.
Slaoui’s position will have already been molded by his board post. And it will fit neatly into the administration’s own view that they can make it happen. Speaking at the White House today, he mentioned seeing unpublished data — presumably Moderna’s — that suggested success is close at hand, according to Politico.
“These data made me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020,” he said.
We won’t have long to wait.