Moncef Slaoui, the former head of Warp Speed, has exited 3 biotech firms after facing a 'substantiated' sexual-harassment claim

  • Moncef Slaoui, the former head of Operation Warp Speed, is facing a sexual-harassment allegation. 
  • His former employer GlaxoSmithKline said an investigation “substantiated the allegations and is ongoing.”
  • The complaint is from several years ago when Slaoui worked at GSK. He left the company in 2017.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Biotech companies are cutting ties with Moncef Slaoui, after the drug industry veteran was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.

The allegations stem from Slaoui’s tenure at GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma company said in a statement on Wednesday. The company launched an investigation into the claims and substantiated them, GSK said.

Slaoui left GSK in 2017. Last year, he was tapped by President Donald Trump as the scientific head of the US vaccine effort, then known as Operation Warp Speed. He stepped down from that role in January at the request of the Biden administration. 

On Wednesday, GSK said it fired Slaoui from the board of Galvani Bioelectronics, a startup in which it owns a majority stake. Slaoui also exited two other biotech firms: Centessa Pharmaceuticals and Vaxcyte.

In a statement late Wednesday, Slaoui apologized and said he was stepping back from his professional responsibilities.

“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 in the statement.

‘This simply should not have happened’

In a letter to GSK employees obtained by Insider, CEO Emma Walmsley said that the company received the sexual-harassment complaint in February and that the board “immediately initiated an investigation with an experienced law firm.”

“Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time,” Walmsley wrote. “This will continue. 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.”

Slaoui, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and immunology, spent nearly three decades ascending the ranks at GSK. Then he became well known as the face of the Trump administration’s ambitious effort to develop and mass-produce coronavirus vaccines. In January, he resigned at the request of President Joe Biden’s team.

Slaoui worked at GSK for almost 3 decades

Slaoui started at GSK in 1988 as a bench scientist. By 2006 he had joined GSK’s board of directors, and he oversaw the vaccines business starting in 2009. After retiring from GSK, Slaoui became a venture capitalist, joining the firm Medicxi as a partner in 2017.

Medicxi hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Vaxcyte, where Slaoui served as chairman, said it requested his resignation when it learned of the allegations against him. Centessa, a biotech startup, said Slaoui has left his role as chief scientific officer. 

Slaoui also served on the board of coronavirus-vaccine maker Moderna from 2017 to 2020. In a statement, Moderna said it “was not aware of these or any other allegations of improper conduct by Dr. Slaoui.” The company declined to comment further.

Walmsley said in her memo that she was “shocked and angry about all of this, but I’m resolute.”

“We are in an age of progress with a female CEO, growing ranks of female leaders, new commitments to diverse representation, and a culture that values speaking up,” Walmsley wrote. “I expect everyone to represent GSK with integrity — especially senior leaders.”

A vaccine-research site in Rockville, Maryland, that opened in December 2016 and was named after Slaoui will be renamed, she added.

This article has been updated with Slaoui’s departures from Centessa and Vaxcyte.

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