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Moncef Slaoui: Morocco-born scientist leading the US COVID-19 vaccine development team.


In early April 2020, President Donald Trump announced Operation Warp Speed, a flagship federal initiative to fast-track the development of drugs to combat the novel coronavirus. 

The US government has some 30 research projects for the development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments and has so far invested more than $12bn in more.

US President Donald Trump officially appointed Morocco-born immunology expert Moncef Slaoui as the head of his administration’s COVID-19 vaccine development team on Friday, May 15.

In the press briefing, Moncef Slaoui thanked Trump for his appointment, saying he is honored to have the privilege of serving “our country” and the world in helping to develop a vaccine.

“The objectives of Operation Warp Speed are very clear,” Slaoui said, adding that they are “very credible” but “extremely challenging.”

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.

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.

Moncef received a PhD in Molecular Biology and Immunology from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium and completed postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston. He was a professor of Immunology at the University of Mons, Belgium and has authored more than 100 scientific papers and presentations. A citizen of Morocco, Belgium and the USA, he is fluent in English, French and Arabic.

Moncef is a Partner at Medicxi and has been with the firm since September 2017. He is currently dedicating his attention and focus as Chief Scientist for Operation Warp Speed - the fast track programme for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic in the US.

Prior to Medicxi, Moncef was GlaxoSmithKline’s Head of Pharmaceutical R&D and Chairman of its Vaccines division.  From this leadership role, Moncef spearheaded a profound overhaul of GSK's pharmaceutical R&D, resulting in a substantial improvement in productivity, a late-stage pipeline comprising more than 30 phase 3 programmes and a totally redesigned discovery organisation comprising 38 highly focused and accountable Discovery Performance Units. During his career at GSK, he also headed the development of a robust vaccines pipeline, including Rotarix to prevent infantile gastroenteritis, Synflorix to prevent pneumococcal disease and Cervarix to prevent cervical cancer.

Outside of his role at Medicxi, Moncef is chairman of the board at Galvani Bioelectronics and chairman of the board at Vaxcyte.  

He also served on the board at Intellia Therapeutics, Inc., PhRMA Foundation, Agency for Science, Technology & Research, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Inc. and Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America.