Watchdog groups want Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar to disclose all pharma ties


Watchdog groups want President Trump’s new coronavirus vaccine czar to disclose all of his ties to drug companies.

Moncef Slaoui, who leads “Operation Warp Speed,” the administration’s initiative to find a COVID-19 vaccine, has extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry and has come under fire from advocates and Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) for potential conflicts of interest. 

However, his position in the administration is on a contract and he is not considered a government employee. As such, he is not subject to the same federal disclosure rules that would require him to list his stock holdings and other potential conflicts. 

According to an ethics complaint filed with the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General by Public Citizen and the advocacy group Lower Drug Prices Now, Slaoui should be considered a government employee. 

“His duties and role in government are very specific and focused on a singular mission. And Slaoui is accountable to higher government officials (including the President) and in doing so, characterizing him as an independent contractor rather than a government employee seems implausible,” the groups said.

Slaoui is a venture capitalist and a former longtime executive at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Most recently, he sat on the board of biotechnology company Moderna, which is receiving hundreds of millions in government funding to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

He resigned from the board just before taking the administration job. However, according to Securities and Exchanges Commission filings, Slaoui still held more than 156,000 stock options in the company. At the time of his appointment to lead Operation Warp Speed, the shares were worth about $10 million.

The value of those holdings jumped more than $2 million following promising early results from Moderna’s phase one vaccine trial. 

Slaoui sold those shares the next day, and the administration said he would donate the increased value to cancer research.

However, Slaoui still has shares in GSK, and has not disclosed how much stock he owns. He also remains a partner in Medicxi, a venture capital firm that specializes in investing in biotech concerns. 

The complaint said Slaoui’s ties to industry will call into question the decisions made by Operation Warp Speed.  

“The President certainly has the authority to appoint Slaoui to such a leadership position in government, but the public also has the legal authority to demand that Slaoui’s public service not be tainted by personal gain,” the complaint said.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren GlaxoSmithKline Moderna Moncef Slaoui Public Citizen Vaccination Vaccine

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