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Trump to appoint Morocco's Moncef Slaoui to head coronavirus vaccine taskforce: Report

White House adviser Jared Kushner said to be among the officials who interviewed former GlaxoSmithKline executive
Slaoui had repeatedly denied since last week that he was considering a role with the Trump administration (GlaxoSmithKline)

US President Donald Trump is reported to have appointed Moroccan venture capitalist and former pharmaceutical chief Moncef Slaoui to head Operation Warp Speed, a White House initiative aimed at quickly developing and distributing coronavirus vaccines.

Slaoui will help coordinate the development of vaccines and treatments in a role shared between the Health and Human Services and Defense departments, three individuals with knowledge of the selection told Politico.

Slaoui, 60, is a partner at Medicxi Capital, a Philadelphia-area venture capital firm.

Prior to Medicxi, he was GlaxoSmithKline’s head of pharmaceutical research and development and chairman of its vaccines division.

Slaoui had repeatedly denied over the past week that he was considering a role with the Trump administration. 

“I’m the same venture capitalist you talked to last week,” he told Politico on Monday.

Long career

A member of the board of directors of Moderna, a US biotechnology company pursuing a coronavirus vaccine, Slaoui said in March that he was part of the company’s research and development committee.

He said the private committee had received support from federal organisations to help fund the development of a vaccine.

Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive of Bio, the US biotech industry organisation, told USA Today that Slaoui was an excellent choice and someone who has always stood for scientific excellence.

"Over his long career, he has demonstrated a strong commitment to public health, innovation and a public-private partnership that are vital to building the collaborations we need to bring new therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines to the American people," said Greenwood.

In an interview with Moroccan television channel 2M on 13 April, Slaoui acknowledged that there were hundreds of clinical studies underway in many countries. 

He expressed optimism that as a result of the rapidly increasing number of coronavirus cases, clinical studies will achieve preliminary results quickly. 

“I believe that by the end of May or by early June, we will know if some of these drugs work,” he said.

Slaoui received a PhD in Molecular Biology and Immunology from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, and completed postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.

He was a professor of immunology at the University of Mons in Belgium and has authored more than 100 scientific papers and presentations.

A citizen of Morocco, Belgium and the US, he is fluent in English, French and Arabic.

Algeria's Zerhouni interviewed

White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner were among the officials who interviewed Slaoui and other candidates for the role last week, according to Politico.

Other finalists included Algerian scientist Elias Zerhouni, the former director of the US National Institutes of Health under President George W Bush and a science advisor to President Barack Obama. 

Public health experts have repeatedly warned that the development of a vaccine could stretch into 2021 or beyond.