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Operation Warp Speed advisers held investments in COVID vaccine firms, records show

By Tara Copp and Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON - Several top officials leading the administration's effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine at record speed had financial ties to the pharmaceutical companies now competing to develop the much-needed drug, according to disclosures released Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services financial disclosures, which were released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, show that several Operation Warp Speed advisers who were selected by President Donald Trump either held board positions with firms that are currently engaged in coronavirus work, or held securities in firms now contracted to produce vaccines.

The documents "have heightened concerns that these advisers may have significant undisclosed financial conflicts of interest that, contrary to the administration's public statements, have not been adequately addressed," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the subcommittee.

In a filing dated May 16 that the committee released Tuesday, Operation Warp Speed chief adviser and former head of GlaxoSmithKline vaccine development, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, reported to HHS that he held securities in GlaxoSmithKline and Moderna, Inc., which have contracts with the U.S. government for coronavirus vaccine work, and in the Lonza Group, which was contracted by Moderna to manufacture its vaccine candidate.

Moderna was the first company to enter its vaccine candidate into Phase III trials in the United States. GlaxoSmithKline, in partnership with Sanofi, has agreed to provide up to 100 million doses of a vaccine still in development for the U.S. government, in a $2.1 billion contract.

Slaoui is chief adviser for the coronavirus vaccine development program under Operation Warp Speed, the federal interagency program that is responsible for expediting the discovery, production and distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19.

 

A senior HHS official said that Slaoui has resigned from his position as an independent member of the board of directors for Moderna.

"Further, he divested of his equity holdings in Moderna and committed to donate to cancer research all incremental value accrued from his Moderna shares between the evening of Thursday, May 14, prior to the announcement of his position on Operation Warp Speed and the time of sale," the official said. "He also left all advisory boards and boards of directors of companies with even the appearance of conflict."

The official did not say what date Slaoui completed the sale of his holdings. Regarding the investment that Slaoui has with his former firm GlaxoSmithKline, "if GSK shares accrue more value than the average pharmaceutical index, Dr. Slaoui has committed to donating the difference to the National Institutes of Health for continued research," the official said.

Three other Operation Warp Speed advisers - former Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dr. Carlo de Notaristefani and former Pfizer Inc., executives Dr. William Erhardt and Dr. Rachel Harrigan - also filed disclosures in late May that were released by the subcommittee. The reports showed that they, too, held securities in the firms that are developing the vaccine, including Pfizer, which was the second company to enter a candidate into Phase III trials.

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