- Moncef Slaoui, the former Moderna board member who was tapped last week to lead “Operation Warp Speed,” the White House’s effort to quickly develop a COVID-19 vaccine, will divest himself of his stock options in Moderna, the company said on Monday.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren had called on Slaoui to divest, as Moderna is receiving funding from the Department of Health and Human Services.
- “Consistent with this appointment, we can also confirm that Dr. Slaoui is divesting all of his equity interest in Moderna so that there is no conflict of interest,” the company said in a statement to Business Insider.
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Moncef Slaoui, a former Moderna board member who was tapped last week to lead the White House’s effort to quickly develop a COVID-19 vaccine, will divest himself of his $10 million in stock options in the pharmaceutical company, Moderna representatives said on Monday afternoon.
“Dr. Slaoui resigned his Board position last week upon the appointment of his new role to oversee the White House’s Operation Warp Speed initiative,” Moderna said in a statement to Business Insider. “Consistent with this appointment, we can also confirm that Dr. Slaoui is divesting all of his equity interest in Moderna so that there is no conflict of interest with Dr. Slaoui in his new role.”
The company added: “We wish Dr. Slaoui well in this new role, and we know he has a lot to contribute as our nation — and the world — address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a statement to Business Insider, the US Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that Slaoui would divest himself of his equity holdings in Moderna, effective Tuesday morning.
“Furthermore, Dr. Slaoui has 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, scheduled for tomorrow morning,” an HHS representative said.
Slaoui was named the chief scientist for the White House’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine-development effort last week. The Associated Press said Slaoui’s White House work would be unpaid.
While Slaoui resigned from his role on Moderna’s board, US Securities and Exchange Commission filings indicated he still held some 155,438 stock options in Moderna worth more than $10 million, Business Insider reported.
Shares of Moderna, which in April announced up to $483 million in funding from HHS, have almost tripled in value this year.
Slaoui could have run into problems had he not divested himself of his stock options, John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School, told Business Insider.
“If he is going to have any say as to which vaccine is funded, he is hopelessly convicted,” Coffee said, adding that Slaoui “has a major conflict of interest, as he is incentivized to favor Moderna.”
“But it is not insider trading unless he were in the future to buy or sell Moderna (or other affected stock) based on material nonpublic information,” Coffee said.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week called for Slaoui to divest himself of his stock options.
“It is a huge conflict of interest for the White House’s new vaccine czar to own $10 million of stock in a company receiving government funding to develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” Warren said in a tweet on Friday, adding that he “should divest immediately.”
Slaoui spent nearly 30 years as an executive at the pharma company GSK before joining Moderna’s board in 2017.
Slaoui’s role at Moderna was focused on the company’s product-development work. The New York Times said that Slaoui “might have been privy to the early indications of tests of whether the company’s approach appeared promising, now that it is being injected into human subjects.”
The White House did not offer a comment for this story, and multiple attempts to reach Slaoui went unreturned.