Trump's New Coronavirus Czar Divesting From Vaccine Company After Ethics Concerns

The move followed Sen. Elizabeth Warren's criticism of former pharma executive Moncef Slaoui's Moderna stock options as a "huge conflict of interest."

President Donald Trump’s new COVID-19 czar Moncef Slaoui is divesting from a leading vaccine company following criticism that his millions of dollars in stock options represented a major conflict of interest.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Monday announced Slaoui’s divestiture from the Massachusetts biotech company Moderna. The company’s shares soared 20% Monday following positive results for eight patients in its Phase 1 trial of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, climaxing a 309% rally this year.

Slaoui, a former pharmaceutical company executive, gave up a position on Moderna’s board when Trump named him to head the president’s reformatted coronavirus task force, now named Operation Warp Speed and aimed at vaccine development. But Slaoui continued to hold more than 155,000 options for Moderna shares, which were reported in required federal financial filings.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the options, already worth some $10 million before Monday’s surge, a “huge conflict of interest” and demanded Slaoui divest.

According to the HHS statement, Slaoui has “directed the divestiture of his equity holdings in Moderna, and that sale should be effective [Tuesday] morning.” He’ll also “donate to cancer research all incremental value” of the Moderna shares between May 14 — the day before his White House position was announced —and the time of sale.

Moderna last month announced that it received $483 million in federal funding for vaccine development, which sent its share price up 15%, CNBC reported.

Moderna’s vaccine is one of eight around the world that have already begun human testing. Slaoui’s financial stake in Moderna threatened to sway his decisions on the task force to benefit his own financial interest, rather than the public interest.

When Slaoui was introduced by Trump on Friday, he said the president’s aim to develop a vaccine by the end of the year was “credible,” but “extremely challenging.” He referred to positive results from a clinical study ― likely Moderna’s, but he did not name the company.

Slaoui joined the Moderna board of directors in 2017. He worked for several years before that as head of research and development at GlaxoSmithKline.

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