Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of outgoing POTUS’ Operation Warp Speed (OWS), submitted his resignation based on a request by incoming President Biden. Dr. Slaoui will remain part of a transition team for a month. Although TrialSite has called out a number of problematic issues associated with OWS’ actions, Dr. Slaoui will be remembered for overseeing what represents an unprecedented historic milestone: the development of novel, safe and effective vaccines in just months. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines came though, thanks in part to his adroit leadership and TrialSite commends him for his service in this fight against COVID-19.
TrialSite monitored OWS ongoing and uncovered a number of challenges from a lack of significant transparency (they were spending taxpayer dollars) to a seeming bias toward novel, complex industry research versus more emphasis on investigating promising economical, repurposed drug candidates. They handed out over $13 billion to just a handful of companies developing vaccines and therapies. But that surely isn’t all on Dr. Slaoui; after all, a particularly prodigal deal-making culture most certainly infused the operation from the top on down.
Working for GlaxoSmithKline for 30 years in various roles, including leading their vaccine development, Slaoui came in with deep industry ties (and stock ownership) which raised alarms for many (alleging of course conflict of interest). Frankly that’s necessary. That’s one reason why the vaccine development program led to historical delivery. The “vocational certainty” required in such a role necessitates the leader possessing extensive industry expertise, insight and pedigree, which can only come from being there over an extended period of time.
As reported by Meg Tirrell writing for CNBC, some politicians raised alarms with his involvement such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Although Slaoui declined to sell his GSK stock, he did publish a video message declaring his traditional political persuasion (though that shouldn’t matter), his intentions and his perspective that he “didn’t hesitate” to take on the role to fight COVID-19. Ms. Tirrell reports he was paid just $1,000 for his work overseeing the entire OWS operation. And even that remuneration will be donated to science.
A reminder to all that drug and vaccine development represents a complex, time consuming and expensive endeavor. From discovery through development to commercialization, a lot of smart, talented, and experienced people are required. As far as the vaccines go, brilliant scientists armed with advanced tools and technologies represent a mission-critical contributor for what success we have had. While only a few get the big payments and glory, it’s the committed researchers, scientists, trial site organizations and participant volunteers that made all of this possible. But, of course, other ingredients include money, infrastructure, organizational buy-in, etc. Hence, OWS was a great idea that TrialSite took a lot of heat by many for backing. In fact, we called it a potential “Game Changer.” How will this organization evolve? TrialSite will monitor. TrialSite thanks Dr. Slaoui for his service.