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WSJ: The Captain of Operation Warp Speed


Operation Warp Speed chief advisor, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, spoke with The Wall Street Journal about COVID-19 vaccine candidates, clinical trials, and logistics of delivering vaccines. Dr. Slaoui also discussed how streamlining and removing ‘dead time’ between each of the phases helps speed up the process of developing vaccines.

With the power of public and private partnerships and bright scientists like Dr. Slaoui, we are moving closer to having a safe and effective vaccine. Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR), Health Subcommittee Republican Leader Dr. Michael Burgess (R-TX), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY) are conducting vigorous oversight of the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics by hearing directly from public health experts, drug manufacturers, and other key stakeholders. The E&C Republican leaders also shared why they are confident in the safety and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves in an op-ed in The Hill.

Learn more about Operation Warp Speed in Dr. Slaoui’s recent interview with The Wall Street Journal.

The Captain of Operation Warp Speed
By Allysia Finley
October 9, 2020

Past vaccines have taken a decade or longer to develop, and more than half over the past 20 years have failed during clinical trials. But four vaccine candidates have entered the last phase of clinical trials before approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Technological breakthroughs that were already in progress got a boost from a bureaucratic one in May, when the Trump administration launched “Operation Warp Speed.” The initiative organized government agencies and private companies around the goal of developing, manufacturing and distributing hundreds of millions of vaccine doses with initial doses available by early 2021.

Leading the operation is Moncef Slaoui, a Moroccan-born Belgian-American scientist who shepherded vaccine development at the U.K. drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline from 1988 to 2017. His interest in immunology and vaccine development is personal: When he was growing up in Casablanca, his younger sister died of whooping cough. He earned a doctorate in molecular biology and immunology at the Free University of Brussels, then immigrated to the U.S. for postdoctoral work at Harvard and Tufts medical schools.

In 1988 he landed a job in GSK’s vaccine division. There he helped develop one of the world’s thickest vaccine portfolios, including inoculations for meningitis, human papillomavirus and rotavirus. The company developed 14 successful vaccines during Mr. Slaoui’s tenure. When the Trump administration tapped him to run Operation Warp Speed, liberals predictably criticized him because he came out of private industry.

Operation Warp Speed has invested in six vaccine candidates (Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Sanofi /GSK) with the hope that at least a couple will prove safe and effective in clinical trials. “What was extremely useful in the case of the Covid program,” Mr. Slaoui says, “was to frankly use judgments and experience to say, ‘OK, there are four platform technologies that are best suited to, A, be successful, B, make the timeline, C, be manufacturable at scale. And D, we can have access to them.’ ”

The trials, Mr. Slauoi emphasizes, are run “absolutely as usual.” The improvements in speed come from administrative streamlining. Vaccine makers have been able to do in six to seven months what would usually take six or seven years by eliminating what Mr. Slaoui calls “dead time” between phases—for instance, by preparing trial sites and recruiting volunteers in advance. “As soon as [vaccines] were in technical work, so still in the lab and in animals, we already were preparing the sites for the Phase 1 trial, but also, critically, for the Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials.”

Operation Warp Speed, meanwhile, also looks past approval to manufacturing and distribution. It has funded the manufacturing in advance of hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine candidates and is working to ensure that vaccines are seamlessly distributed to doctors’ offices and pharmacies once they’ve been approved.

“One of the remarkable features of Operation Warp Speed is the collaboration and partnership between government entities and industry,” he says. With politicians so often at loggerheads with the pharmaceutical industry, this may be as important a breakthrough as any vaccine.

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