Moncef Slaoui, the ex-head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines division, has been tapped to lead President Donald Trump’s “warp speed” effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine, two White House officials said Wednesday.
The officials said four-star Army General Gustave Perna had also been selected to help oversee “Operation Warp Speed.” Slaoui will act as the chief adviser and Perna will serve as the chief operating officer overseeing logistics.
The appointments come two weeks after Trump announced the operation to quickly ramp up production and organize distribution plans for a forthcoming vaccine, which experts say is still months or years away.
The effort had been overseen by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and their agencies will remain involved in the effort, officials said.
A number of people were considered over the past week for the vaccine chief position in addition to Slaoui, one official said, including Elias Zerhouni, the former head of National Institutes of Health under President George W. Bush and Art Levinson, the CEO of Calico.
Slaoui headed GSK’s global vaccines business from 2015-2017. Before that he acted as its longtime chairman of global research and development. He helped develop vaccines to prevent infantile rotavirus gastroenteritis, cervical cancer and shingles.
On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers during a hearing that a vaccine for coronavirus could be developed in a year or two but that it was unlikely to be ready by August, when students are returning to school.
The goal of Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” – which may prove impossible to meet – is to make 100 million doses of the vaccine available by November, 200 million doses by December and 300 million doses by January, a senior administration official has told CNN.
Scientists who are part of the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine project have identified 14 vaccines to focus on for development, according to a senior administration official. Those involved in the effort expect to have six to eight of the vaccines being tested make it to subsequent rounds of trials, the official said.
Officials hope to have three to four vaccines make it through final testing and be made available, but that depends on how the testing and clinical trials proceed and how successful they are.
The Department of Health and Human Services division tasked with vaccine development, BARDA, has seen its leadership in flux after the former director Dr. Rick Bright was ousted. Bright filed a formal whistleblower complaint on Tuesday alleging his early warnings about coronavirus were ignored that that his concerns about promoting an untested therapeutic heralded by the President led to his ouster.
BARDA has issued close to $1 billion in grants to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop a vaccine.
While the task force has discussed these issues over the past two months, there hasn’t been a central figure to coordinate them specifically. Fauci, in his role at the NIH, has been focused on vaccine development, but his other roles on the task force have also occupied his time.
Jared Kushner, the President’s senior adviser and son-in-law, is likely to be “engaged” in the administration’s vaccine effort, a senior administration official said last week. But the official said the White House was eying a “prestigious” and “empowered” director to lead the effort.