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Government Watchdog Sounds Alarm Over Appointment of Former Pharma Executive to Trump's Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force

"If the Trump administration approaches vaccine development as it has Covid-19 prevention, testing and treatment, the world may be in for years of more extraordinary pain," said Public Citizen. 

Moncef Slaoui, former head of GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine division, has reportedly been named to lead "Operation Warp Speed," the Trump administration's program aimed at developing a Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo: C-Span)

Government watchdog Public Citizen on Thursday condemned the Trump administration's reported appointment of a former pharmaceutical executive to the White House's task force aimed at swiftly developing a Covid-19 vaccine as another example of the White House putting management of the pandemic in the hands of private industry. 

The administration named Moncef Slaoui, former head of GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine division and a venture capitalist in the pharmaceutical field, to act as chief adviser for the program, called "Operation Warp Speed."

Slaoui worked at GlaxoSmithKline for 30 years until 2017, and since then has sat on the boards of a number of pharmaceutical firms which are now researching potential vaccines for the coronavirus—leaving the former executive with what Public Citizen called "blatant financial conflicts of interest."

Currently a partner at pharmaceutical investment firm Medicxi, Slaoui has earned $490,000 as a board member at Moderna, Inc. and also sits on the board of Lonza Group AG, a Swiss company which is contracting with Moderna to find a Covid-19 vaccine. His former employer, GlaxoSmithKine, is also working to develop an immunization.

According to Bloomberg, Slaoui plans to leave the boards that he currently sits on, but Public Citizen demanded confirmation from the former executive that he will commit to finding a vaccine that is made available globally, regardless of the profits his companies stand to lose or gain. 

Slaoui's current and former positions in the pharmaceutical industry should "disqualify" him," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, "unless he commits immediately to global vaccine access conditions over the obvious profit interests of the corporations he serves."

"If the Trump administration approaches vaccine development as it has Covid-19 prevention, testing, and treatment, the world may be in for years of more extraordinary pain," Maybarduk added. "The dangers of global vaccine rationing are profound. No one corporation has the capacity to deliver a vaccine to all the world's people."

Earlier this week, Public Citizen noted, Slaoui denied to Politico that he was being considered for the administration's program, saying, "I'm the same venture capitalist you talked to last week."

Now, said Maybarduk, Slaoui must prove the opposite is true.

With Operation Warp Speed, the administration plans to bring together pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to cut the development time for a Covid-19 vaccine by several months, with officials hoping an immunization will be developed by the end of 2020. 

In March, Trump's FDA came under fire for awarding monopoly status to Gilead Sciences for Remdesivir, a drug it was developing for Covid-19 treatment. The company backed off its claim after a pressure campaign led by Public Citizen. 

"The U.S. government must commit to sharing clinical trial data, patents, and know-how among manufacturers and with the world, to quickly achieve the mountainous scale of production that humanity needs," the group said.

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