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

Former GSK vaccine head Moncef Slaoui has been tapped to lead the government's "Operation Warp Speed" program. (The White House/Twitter)

It's full speed ahead on a COVID-19 vaccine at the highest levels of U.S. government. After press reports and Senate testimony described a "Manhattan Project" for novel coronavirus vaccines, President Donald Trump officially unveiled the program and its leaders on Friday.

At a Rose Garden event, Trump named former GlaxoSmithKline vaccine head Moncef Slaoui and four-star general Gustave Perna to lead the charge, which aims to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.

Already, based on early data for one undisclosed program, Slaoui said he's confident the group can deliver. The GSK vet now serves on the board of Moderna, whose mRNA vaccine candidate is in human testing against COVID-19.

Slaoui joined the board of the buzzy biotech—and other life sciences companies—after leaving GSK. Moderna's shot is now among the leading candidates. Slaoui will now leave the board, however, as he takes on the broader vaccine-leadership role, Moderna said Friday.

The "Warp Speed" group will incorporate expertise from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and more, FDA chief Stephen Hahn said at a Senate hearing this week. 

Aside from Moderna's vaccine, programs from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson and many other companies are racing ahead. Even as researchers advance the programs through development, teams are also working to scale up massive manufacturing systems to deliver hundreds of millions—or billions—of doses quickly if the candidates show efficacy.  

Addressing access questions that have swirled in recent days, Trump said he'll work with international partners if another country develops a vaccine first, and that the U.S. would likewise share a potential vaccine developed in America.

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