“There is a haste to give a negative, frankly inflammatory messages that are inappropriate, that are hurtful on a personal basis,” the Moroccan immunologist said in response to Democrats demanding transparency.
Moncef Slaoui, the Morocco-born scientist leading the US COVID-19 vaccine development team, has responded to critics’ accusations of corruption over his ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren called for Slaoui’s resignation Wednesday, terming his equity investments in the industry a “conflict of interest” with his current task of developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
Moncef Slaoui was the former head of the vaccines division at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a multinational pharmaceutical company based in London. He is a former board member of Moderna, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, and Lonza Group, a Swiss multinational biotechnology company.
All three companies are involved in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Democrats claim he had holdings in all three until recently — although Slaoui has rejected claims of equity investment in Lonza — creating a conflict of interest as he works on the White House’s vaccine development operation.
In August, Democrats said Moncef Slaoui maintains at least $10 million in GSK shares and that he sold his Moderna holdings for $12.4 million in mid-May after resigning from the board. Slaoui has admitted to these claims.
Senator Warren accused the Trump administration of using a “loophole” in federal ethics law to hire Slaoui and keep his big pharma stock holdings private, CNBC reported.
In her accusation, the senator referenced a House committee report that indicates Slaoui may own stock in Lonza Group. Slaoui stressed to CNBC on Wednesday that he has “never owned shares in Lonza.”
Many Americans consider Senator Warren a champion of corporate accountability and transparency.
Moncef Slaoui admitted to holding shares in GSK, which is working on its own COVID-19 vaccine with Sanofi. However, he maintained that he discussed keeping his GSK shares with the Trump administration’s ethics lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Moroccan immunologist worked at GSK for nearly three decades and told CNBC that he plans to put his holdings in the company towards his retirement.
He claims to have divested all shares in companies with COVID-19 vaccine interests, save for GSK.
“I let go of significant value on a personal basis. I’m committed to public health and getting rid of this pandemic,” he said in the CNBC interview. “It just blows my mind that on a repeated basis that I’m attacked on a personal basis for doing good. I think it’s enough.”
Warren and other Democratic leaders are demanding a focus on facts and how they relate to established ethics standards, rather than intentions.
In response to Senator Warren’s accusations of corruption, Moncef Slaoui said he thinks “there is a haste to give a negative, frankly inflammatory messages that are inappropriate, that are hurtful on a personal basis.”
He stressed, “I have given all the information that’s been asked and I continue to give it. And it’s not been properly analyzed.”
Senator Warren, however, maintains her insistence on transparency.
“If Dr. Slaoui has had enough, it’s simple: he can disclose his financial interests and fully divest immediately or he can step aside,” she told CNBC on Wednesday.
She added that “the American people should never be left doubting if the government will put public health over profits during a pandemic.”