The operation, launched by the Trump administration, aims to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and produce 100 million doses by November.
Rabat – Moroccan scientific Moncef Slaoui is expected to outstrip competition from Algerian and US experts to become head of the US’ new COVID-19 vaccine program.
Before reports shared US President Donald Trump’s intention to appoint Slaoui as chief adviser at “Operation Warp Speed” for accelerating the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the Moroccan expert appeared on a shortlist alongside two other experts; an Algerian doctor and an American biotech expert.
Slaoui’s upcoming appointment, reported on May 13, came two weeks after Trump unveiled the operation. Over the following two weeks, American officials considered several experts for the leading position.
Reports suggest that Slaoui was able to outstrip the competition and earn Trump’s trust to lead “Operation Warp Speed,” thanks to his extensive experience in immunology and vaccinology.
An impressive career
The Moroccan doctor worked for over 30 years at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), including 10 years as Global Head of Research and Development and two years as chairman of GSK Vaccines. Slaoui is also current chairman at Galvani Bioelectronics and a partner at investment firm Medicxi Venture Capital.
Born in 1959 in Agadir, central Morocco, Slaoui earned his baccalaureate diploma in Casablanca before flying to Belgium to pursue university studies. The Moroccan expert obtained a PhD in molecular biology and immunology from the Free University of Brussels.
Hoping to attain his childhood dream of becoming a physician, Slaoui started postdoctoral studies at both Harvard Medical School and the Tufts University School of Medicine.
However, because of his growing responsibilities at GSK, Slaoui did not finish his postdoctoral studies and focused instead on his career at the British multinational. During his time at GSK, the Moroccan scientist oversaw the development of a series of vaccines and drugs.
Slaoui has also worked as advisor for several institutions, including the Qatar Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
The Moroccan scientist is a former immunology professor at the University of Mons in Belgium and the author of over 100 research papers.
The Moroccan expert’s main contenders for the position of chief advisor at “Operation Warp Speed” were Algeria’s Elias Zerhouni and US citizen Arthur Levinson.
Zerhouni, born in 1951, is an Algerian scientist, radiologist, and biomedical engineer. The expert has held several important positions in a number of institutions, ranging from medical schools to pharmaceutical companies and government task forces.
After obtaining a medical degree at the University of Algiers in 1975, Zerhouni emigrated to the US and took up a residency position at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The Algerian doctor served as executive vice-dean at the university between 1995 and 2002.
In 2002, Zerhouni became the 15th Director of the National Institutes of Health, the government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research.
In 2009, under the Obama administration, Zerhouni served as the first science envoy in the US and worked towards fostering scientific and technological collaboration with other countries.
Between 2011 and 2018, as a final stage in his career, Zerhouni was the President for Global Research and Development at the French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi.
Meanwhile, the third main candidate in the race for Trump’s COVID-19 operation, Arthur Levinson, is an American businessman specialized in biotechnology.
Born in 1950, Levinson has also built up a resume consisting of high profile positions. Between 1995 and 2014, he took the positions of CEO and chairman at biotechnology company Genentech.
Levinson has served as senior advisor for several companies and institutions, including Swiss healthcare multinational Hoffmann-La Roche, Amyris Biotechnologies, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, and Princeton University.
The American businessman is currently the chairman of tech giant Apple and CEO of biotechnology company Calico.
While Slaoui’s upcoming appointment represents a source of pride for Moroccans, his mission will be crucial for all humanity, as the entire world is still struggling against the COVID-19 pandemic.
As chief adviser for Trump’s new task force, Slaoui would have to ensure the US can develop and produce 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by November, 200 million doses by December, and 300 million doses by January 2021–a goal many experts have qualified as too optimistic.