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President Trump says he’s hopeful to have a coronavirus vaccine on the market by the end of the year or shortly thereafter. (May 15)

AP Domestic

The former pharmaceutical executive tapped last week to head Operation Warp Speed, the White House group working to secure a coronavirus vaccine, will divest $10 million in stock options from a company considered one of the front-runners in the race to a vaccine.  

Last Wednesday Moncef Slaoui was named to head Operation Warp Speed. Slaoui had been on the board of the biotech company Moderna but resigned when his appointment to the White House position was announced. However, he still owned stock options in the company worth more than $10 million, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

On Monday, Moderna announced promising though very preliminary results from a trial of its vaccine candidate in eight people. Moderna shares rose more than 20% on the news. The company’s stock has more than tripled in value in 2020.

His 156,000 options increased in value by at least $3 million on Monday. It is not clear when the divestment will take place. Securities and Exchange listings have not yet recorded it.

As soon as it was announced that he had been named to head the White House effort, calls for Slaoui to divest himself of Moderna stock began.

On Monday, Moderna announced Slaoui would divest himself of all equity interest in the company so there would be no conflict of interest as its vaccine work moves forward.

A Moderna statement said, “Dr. Slaoui is divesting all of his equity interest in Moderna so that there is no conflict of interest with Dr. Slaoui in his new role. We wish Dr. Slaoui well in this new role, and we know he has a lot to contribute as our nation — and the world — address the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Associated Press has reported that Slaoui will take no salary for his work on Operation Warp Speed.

Slaoui has more than 30 years of experience in pharmaceuticals and vaccines, most recently as chair of the vaccines division at pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline, a British multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in London. He then became a partner at Medicxi Capital, a Philadelphia-area venture capital firm. He has a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the Free University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles), according to his LinkedIn page.

Having someone in such a position divest from potential financial gain is crucial, said Dr. Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine and an expert on health economics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

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Otherwise, there could be concerns that decisions about which candidate vaccines move forward in the funding process were not being made entirely based on the science, or later on when the time comes to negotiate the price the government will pay for a possible vaccine.

“He needed to divest himself absolutely from the stock. And there will be certain decisions he probably should be recused from,” said Schulman.

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