Moncef Slaoui to step down from Operation Warp Speed in a month — report
Moncef Slaoui’s tumultuous reign as chief of Operation Warp Speed is coming to an end.
The former GlaxoSmithKline vaccine exec has submitted his resignation at the request of the incoming Biden administration, CNBC reported. Under his current contract and agreed plan, he will stay on for a month to aid with transition — although his role is expected to be diminished after the inauguration on Jan. 20.
In the seven months since he was tapped by outgoing President Donald Trump to the role, Slaoui has coordinated an unprecedented scientific effort to develop vaccines and therapeutics against the backdrop of a raging pandemic. Often criticized for his extensive ties and financial interest in the biopharma industry, he stood on his ground guarding the initiative he led from politicization, going so far as to, on occasion, contradict Trump’s claims on when a vaccine might be ready at a time many were concerned about a rush job.
Operation Warp Speed was hailed as a bright spot in the Trump administration’s otherwise chaotic and inadequate pandemic response, standing out among failures in sorting out protective equipment, testing, social distancing measures or critically needed medical care.
Together with Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer, Slaoui drafted contracts worth at least $12 billion in total as the duo assembled a portfolio of candidates that might help take Covid-19 out.
As he described to Science magazine back in September:
Once we set that strategy, we started to operationalize it. Surprises come every day. New questions from the FDA. Or a clinical trial site that’s not recruiting. Or imbalances in the kind of populations that we want to have in the study. Or changing the geographic location of the sites because the epidemiology is evolving. There are 25 different sites in the U.S involved in the manufacturing of these six vaccines and General Perna and myself tour all of them. Frankly, it’s actually working even better than I was hoping.
The 61-year-old had previously indicated that he planned to step down by early this year once two vaccines and two therapeutics have been authorized. Both of those goals had been reached by the end of 2020 as the FDA issued emergency use authorizations for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna as well as antibodies from Eli Lilly and Regeneron.
The onus now falls on the distribution team, as the Trump administration makes several big changes to the vaccine rollout strategy in a bid to get more shots in arms quickly.
Biden has outlined a goal to hit 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his tenure, but it’s unclear who on the Biden team will take the scientific lead on the other Operation Warp Speed-backed projects that are still in clinical trials. Jeff Zients is his coordinator of Covid-19 response, and Bechara Choucair, the former chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, has been tapped as the vaccinations coordinator.
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