GSK fires former U.S. govt vaccine head Slaoui over harassment allegation

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump holds coronavirus response event in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Former GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical executive Moncef Slaoui, who will serve as chief adviser on the effort to find a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, listens while wearing a protective face mask as President Donald Trump holds a coronavirus disease vaccine event in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

March 24, 2021

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – GlaxoSmithKline has dismissed Moncef Slaoui, former U.S. government vaccine chief, as chairman of a company controlled by the British drugmaker after an internal investigation found he had sexually harassed a GSK employee several years ago.

GSK said the termination of Slaoui’s contract at Galvani Bioelectronics was with immediate effect. Slaoui, the former chief adviser to the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine development programme known as Operation Warp Speed (OWS), was not immediately reachable for comment by telephone and LinkedIn account.

GSK said an investigation into Slaoui’s conduct, performed on its behalf by an independent law firm, had substantiated allegations of harassment and inappropriate contact, adding the inquiry was ongoing.

The termination of Slaoui’s contract follows receipt of a letter containing the allegations of inappropriate conduct towards the employee of GSK, the company said in a statement. GSK said the allegations stemmed from when Slaoui was an employee of GSK.

The company’s London-listed shares were down 1% in afternoon trade.

In a letter to staff and reviewed by Reuters, GSK Chief Executive Emma Walmsley said the company has been dealing with the allegations since February.

“Dr. Slaoui’s behaviours represent an abuse of his leadership position and violate our company policies, our values and our commitment to Trust – a commitment I know is shared by all of you,” she said.

Appointed by former U.S. President Donald Trump as OWS’s chief adviser last year, Slaoui oversaw more than $10 billion in government funding of vaccine development and production. He resigned from the post in January ahead of the incoming administration of President Joe Biden.

Galvani is a bioelectronic medicines company set up in 2016 by 55%-owner GSK and Verily, the life sciences unit of Google parent Alphabet.

A GSK spokesman said U.S. law firm Morgan Lewis had carried out the investigation, which was led by partner Grace Speights,

Her high-profile work on misconduct claims and corporate diversity includes membership of Alphabet’s advisory council, set up last year to oversee the technology firm’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.

Prior to his role at Galvani, Slaoui spent nearly 30 years at GSK and held various leadership roles including head of pharmaceutical R&D and chairman of its vaccines division. He left the GSK board in 2017.

Executive behaviour and treatment of employees have been under scrutiny over the past few years as the #MeToo social media movement prompted a string of high-profile boardroom departures.

Slaoui joined Centessa Pharma last month as chief scientific officer after leaving OWS.

Since 2017, he has been a partner at Medicxi, the investment firm that founded Centessa by merging 10 of its portfolio companies.

Centessa did not have an immediate comment. Calls and messages to Medicxi and an external communications firm were not immediately answered.

Christopher Corsico, senior vice president of development at GSK and a board member at Galvani, has been appointed as the new chair, GSK said. Amy Altshul, senior vice president Legal, R&D and global commercial franchises at GSK, has also been appointed to the board, it said.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger.; Additional reporting by Mike Erman and Manas Mishra.; Editing by Josephine Mason, David Goodman and Mark Potter)