'Warp Speed' head Slaoui, challenged for 'huge conflict of interest,' sells off $12.4M in Moderna stock

Former Moderna board member is selling his stake in the biotech to avoid a conflict of interest. (White House)

As the Operation Warp Speed program races ahead with COVID-19 vaccine candidates, one of its new leaders kept millions of dollars of stock in Moderna, the biotech leading the pack.

But now, after an influential senator challenged that ownership interest, he's planning to sell.

Following Moncef Slaoui’s Friday appointment as a co-leader of the Warp Speed program, he’s set to sell about 155,000 shares in Moderna, according to press reports. They were worth an estimated $10 million Friday, but after Monday's stock run-up on positive early data, they're now valued at about $12.4 million.

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Slaoui is set to donate to cancer research the excess proceeds from the sale, or about $2.4 million, according to CNBC. Slaoui also resigned as a Moderna board member with the appointment.

President Donald Trump unveiled the "Warp Speed" project at a Rose Garden event on Friday. Aside from Slaoui, a GlaxoSmithKline veteran, the four-star general Gustave Perna will also lead the program.

Following Slaoui’s selection, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted that it’s a “huge conflict of interest” for him to keep the Moderna stock as he assumes the new role. She said he should “divest immediately.” 

In a now-deleted tweet, Slaoui responded that there "is no conflict of interest, and there never has been," Business Insider reports.

RELATED: Moderna posts 'positive' early data for COVID-19 vaccine 

Slaoui spent nearly three decades at GlaxoSmithKline and retired in 2017. Then, he joined the boards of Moderna and other life sciences companies.

Operation Warp Speed is aiming to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year. At Friday's event, Slaoui said he was "confident" in that goal after viewing early data from an undisclosed program. Moderna announced its promising data, from eight patients in a phase 1 study, early Monday morning.

Aside from Moderna, dozens of programs are moving ahead, including at least seven others in human testing. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and AstraZeneca are among the pharma giants involved in the work.

RELATED: After sneak peak at early data, Operation Warp Speed head Slaoui 'confident' in COVID-19 vaccine by year's end 

Even as the teams advance through clinical testing, they're also scaling up manufacturing systems to potentially deliver hundreds of millions or billions of doses quickly for a launch.

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