Former GSK Vaccines Chief to Lead US Covid Sprint

15.05.2020 -

Former head of GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) vaccines division, Moncef Slaoui, has been named to lead the so-called "warp speed" effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine announced by US President Donald Trump at the beginning of May.

Slaoui will act as the chief adviser to a new commission charged with accelerating the search for a vaccine, and four-star US Army General Gustave Perna has been selected as the chief operating officer overseeing logistics.

Up to now, US efforts to ramp up production and organize distribution plans for a forthcoming vaccine, have been steered by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The two agencies will remain involved in the project.

Some drugmakers have already announced plans to ramp up their own capacities for vaccines, including biotech Moderna in cooperation with Switzerland’s Lonza and Pfizer in cooperation with Germany’s BioNTech.

Slaoui headed GSK's global vaccines business from 2015-2017. Previously, he was the company’ longtime chairman of global research and development, helping to develop vaccines for prevention of infantile rotavirus gastroenteritis, cervical cancer and shingles. Currently, he is a partner at Medicxi Capital, a Philadelphia-area venture capital firm.

Slaoui has a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the Free University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles). In a statement to US media, Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the US biotech industry organization Bio,, praised the former pharma executive as “an excellent choice and someone who has always stood for scientific excellence.”

The target of  the president’s Operation Warp Speed is to be able to produce 100 million doses of an as yet undiscovered vaccine for Covid-19 in the US in before November this year ( presumably before the Nov. 3 US election), 200 million doses by December and 300 million doses by January 2021.

Although most public health officials are skeptical that these goals can be met, scientists working on the Trump administration's coronavirus vaccine project have identified 14 vaccine candidates to focus on.

The panel hopes to have three to four candidates make it through final testing and be made available for injection, depending on their success in clinical trials. 

Names of the candidates under consideration have not been revealed. Several vaccine makers, including Moderna, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, have already signed R&D collaboration with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, to work on development.

Moderna’s broader deal is worth $483 million, Sanofi’s $226 million.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson this week repeated earlier pronouncements that any vaccine developed will be made available in the US first, squarely in line with the president’s hopes. “The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk,” he said.