Tuesday, April 19, 2022

GSK fires former US vaccine chief Moncef Slaoui over harassment allegation

GSK has dismissed its former research boss Moncef Slaoui, who became US national vaccine chief under Donald Trump, after an independent investigation found that he sexually harassed one of its female employees.

GSK said it had terminated Slaoui’s role at Galvani Bioelectronics, a joint venture majority owned by GSK, with immediate effect. Slaoui had until January led the US vaccine programme Operation Warp Speed.

His dismisal came after an investigation by the Washington-based law firm Morgan Lewis, which was given a mandate in February after GSK managers received a letter containing allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct towards an employee by Slaoui. The misconduct is alleged to have occurred several years ago. “The investigation of Dr Slaoui’s conduct substantiated the allegations and is ongoing,” the firm said.

The scientist, who was head of research at GSK for many years and also chaired its vaccines department until 2017, gave his name to the Slaoui Center for Vaccines Research in Rockville, Maryland. GSK said it would rename the facility, and that it was also reviewing Slaoui’s share options, which were reportedly worth £10m last year.

Emma Walmsley, the GSK chief executive since April 2017, wrote in a letter to employees that she was “shocked and angry,” but also “resolute”.

“Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time,” she 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.”

“I want to be clear that sexual harassment is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated,” she added. “Abuse of leadership position, in any form, will not be tolerated.” She said that she would be speaking personally with many staff in the coming weeks.

The investigation was led by Grace Speights, a Morgan Lewis partner and head of the firm’s labour and employment practice group, who is known for her work in litigation and investigations within organisations in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Moroccan-born Slaoui, 61, joined GSK as a scientist in drug discovery in 1988. He was a GSK board member for 11 years, until 2017, when he was appointed chair of Galvani.

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In February, after leaving Operation Warp Speed, he joined the US biotech firm Centessa Pharmaceuticals, which was created from 10 startups, to lead its research division.

In a statement, GSK said: “Dr Slaoui’s behaviours are wholly unacceptable. They 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.”

Slaoui has been contacted for comment.

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