Moncef Slaoui, the former head of the U.S.'s Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine program, has been fired from his position as board chairman at Galvani Bioelectronics over accusations of sexual harassment, the biotech company's majority shareholder GlaxoSmithKline said in a statement Wednesday.
GSK's board began an investigation after receiving a letter alleging sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct by Slaoui several years ago while he was employed at GSK. In its statement, GSK said its investigation, which is ongoing, "substantiated the allegations."
"Dr. Slaoui's behaviors represent an abuse of his leadership position and violate our company policies, our values, and our commitment to trust," wrote GSK CEO Emma Walmsley in a memo to employees. GSK launched Galvani together with Verily Life Sciences in 2016. At the time, GSK owned 55% of the company.
Slaoui worked at GSK for nearly 30 years, eventually heading up the British drugmaker's research and development as well as leading the company's vaccine work. Last spring, the Trump administration named Slaoui the chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the government program that invested billions of dollars of federal funding to help develop and manufacture six coronavirus vaccines.
Slaoui stepped down from his role leading Warp Speed in mid-February after briefly helping to advise the Biden administration on ongoing vaccine work.
In addition to his Warp Speed role, Slaoui is a partner at the life sciences venture company Medicxi, and recently became chief scientific officer of the newly formed Centessa Pharmaceuticals.
"I have the utmost respect for my colleagues and feel terrible that my actions have put a former colleague in an uncomfortable situation," Slaoui said in a statement emailed Wednesday afternoon. "I would like to apologize unreservedly to the employee concerned and I am deeply sorry for any distress caused."
Slaoui added that he will take a leave of absence from his professional responsibilities. Neither of the companies addressed BioPharma Dive's requests for comment.
After hearing of the allegations, GSK "immediately" hired a law firm to assist with an investigation.
"Since February, the highest levels of our company have been working to understand and address what happened," Walmsley wrote in her letter. "Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time. 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."
Walmsley holds a unique position in the pharmaceutical industry, which like many others is led mostly by male CEOs. Among large drugmakers, Walmsley is one of just two female chief executives along with Vertex Pharmaceuticals' Reshma Kewalramani. In May, they'll be joined by Belén Garijo, who will take over as CEO of the Germany-based Merck KGaA.
"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 said. "I expect everyone to represent GSK with integrity — especially senior leaders."
GSK said it will rename its vaccine R&D center in Rockville, Maryland, which is currently called the Slaoui Center for Vaccines Research.
Note: This story has been updated with comment from Moncef Slaoui.