Slaoui turned his Moroccan disappointment into a story of success. He is the head of the US COVID-19 vaccine development team.
Rabat – Dr. Kamal El Messaoudi, a specialist in molecular biology, revealed a story today about his old colleague, Moncef Slaoui, recently appointed by President Trump as the head of his administration’s COVID-19 vaccine development team.
El Messaoudi relates in a Facebook post how Slaoui’s enthusiasm for bringing his molecular biology expertise to Morocco was met with refusal and disregard.
The Moroccan doctor tells the story of his first meeting with the 30-year-old Slaoui in 1986 at Brussels University. El Messaoudi, who had transport difficulties moving from the laboratory to the campus, found Slaoui by his side to take him in his car.
At the time, Slaoui had completed his thesis on partial biology and specialized in immunity, according to El Messaoudi. “Slaoui provided us with lots of advice and encouragement, as we were at the beginning of our path to prepare a doctorate.”
El Messaoudi wrote the story Slaoui had told him and his colleagues about how Slaoui was received by the Medicine Faculty in Rabat, when he returned to Morocco carrying his doctorate, to voluntarily give a lecture in his specialization.
Initially, an official from the faculty division approved the idea, and El Messaoudi set the date of the lecture. One day later, Moncef was told that the lecture was canceled without any justification.
In an attempt to try his luck elsewhere, Slaoui went to the Faculty of Medicine in Casablanca. Unfortunately, “silence was the answer,” said El Messaoudi.
Memories of Slaoui’s feelings of sorrow and regret prompted El Messaoudi’s initiative to highlight the story.
According to El Messaoudi, Slaoui wanted to benefit his country with his expertise in molecular biology and asked for nothing in exchange. Slaoui thought that his scientific knowledge would be very important for public health and held a lot of potential.
Slaoui’s path to success
Growing up in Morocco, Slaoui lost his sister to whooping cough, an immunizable disease. Her tragic death triggered his interest in immunology and led him to a career that would place him at the helm of the development of vital vaccines.
Slaoui turned his Moroccan disappointment into a story of success. He worked as the head of the vaccines division at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a multinational pharmaceutical company based in London.
As chairman of the GSK, he oversaw the development of various vaccines protecting against gastroenteritis in infants (Rotarix), pneumococcal disease (Synflorix), and cervical cancer (Cervarix).
In 2015 he won European approval for the world’s first malaria vaccine (Mosquirix), and when he retired from the drugmaker in 2017, GSK had a vaccine for Ebola in development.
The COVID-19 vaccine development team is working on ”Operation Warp Speed” with the objective of making 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine available by November, 200 million doses by December, and 300 million doses by January 2021.
Speaking about the COVID-19 expected vaccine on April 12, Slaoui said he expects life to begin its return to normal at the beginning of 2021 after global leaders rein in the pandemic, adding that he considers his prediction “optimistic.”
However, Slaoui said it may take years before everyone can benefit from COVID-19 vaccines, but once they are developed, they will greatly minimize the risks of the virus.
Moncef Slaoui is one of many Moroccan scientists who immigrated to find better professional opportunities abroad, hindering Morocco’s scientific progress and potentially marring the country’s image in the eyes of younger generations.