Former Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui apologizes after sexual harassment claim

  • Moncef Slaoui, who headed the Covid vaccination development effort under the Trump administration, apologized to a woman whose claim of sexual harassment led to his ouster earlier in the day as chairman of a company backed by GlaxoSmithKline.
  • Former President Donald Trump picked the GlaxoSmithKline veteran Slaoui to run Operation Warp Speed, the coronavirus vaccination effort last May.
  • "It is with deep regret that I acknowledge today's statement from GlaxoSmithKline plc regarding my termination as Chair of the Galvani Board of Directors," Slaoui said in a statement.

Moncef Slaoui, who headed Covid vaccination development efforts under the Trump administration, said Wednesday he was "deeply sorry" to a woman whose claim of sexual harassment led to his ouster earlier in the day as chairman of a company backed by pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Slaoui also said that he is taking a leave of absence from roles at other health companies and a venture capital firm to focus on his family, to whom he also apologized.

Slaoui, who spent 30 years at GSK, was chief scientist for Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government's project to develop vaccines to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, GSK said its board had fired the 61-year-old as chairman of Galvani Bioelectronics because of "substantiated" allegations he sexually harassed and had inappropriate conduct toward a female employee at GSK several years ago. GSK is Galvani's majority shareholder.

The woman made the allegations in a letter sent to GSK in February. A law firm hired by the drug company, Morgan, Lewis & Bokius, is continuing to investigate her claims.

"It is with deep regret that I acknowledge today's statement from GlaxoSmithKline plc regarding my termination as Chair of the Galvani Board of Directors," Slaoui said in a statement late Wednesday.

"I have the utmost respect for my colleagues and feel terrible that my actions have put a former colleague in an uncomfortable situation. I would like to apologise unreservedly to the employee concerned and I am deeply sorry for any distress caused," he said.

"I would also like to apologise to my wife and family for the pain this is causing," Slaoui said.

"I will work hard to redeem myself with all those that this situation has impacted," he said.

Slaoiui is married to Kristen Slaoui, who previously served as vice president and head of business development at GSK.

GSK issued a damning statement about Slaoui in announcing his termination from Galvani.

"Dr. Slaoui's behaviours are wholly unacceptable," wrote GSK, which is stripping Slaoui's name from its vaccines research center in Rockville, Maryland.

The company also said Slaoui's actions "represent an abuse of his leadership position, violate company policies, and are contrary to the strong values that define GSK's culture."

"The company expects everyone at GSK to behave in accordance with its values, especially its leaders where its standards are the highest."

GSK CEO Emma Walmsley, in a separate letter to employees, said she was "shocked and angry about all of this, but I'm resolute."

"I want to be clear that sexual harassment is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated," wrote Walmsley.

"Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time. This will continue," Walmsley wrote. "I respect and admire her courage and strength. I've spent many nights lately putting myself in her shoes. More than anything, this simply should not have happened."

Galvani is a medical research company focused on developing bioelectronic medicines for the treatment of chronic diseases. It was formed through a partnership by GSK and Verily Life Sciences, which previously was known as Google Life Sciences. Verily is a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet.

Slaoui last month joined Centessa Pharmaceuticals as chief scientific officer and advisor.

Centessa was founded by the venture capital firm Medicxi. Slaoui has been a partner in Medicxi since 2017.

Slaoui also is chairman of the board of directors at the vaccine company Vaxcyte.

A GSK spokeswoman, when asked if the company would share details of its investigation of Slaoui with other firms that he is affiliated with, said, "We are not sharing anything beyond what we have said publicly at this time."

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