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Head of Trump’s Covid-19 vaccine program to divest more than $10M in Moderna shares after criticism

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses

The pharmaceutical executive tapped to lead the Trump administration’s program to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 will divest his shares in one of the leading vaccine-development companies after controversy arose surrounding his holdings.

News media reported Monday that Moncef Slaoui – who was named last week as head of the administration’s Operation Warp Speed effort to rapidly develop Covid-19 vaccines – would divest his stock options in Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, worth more than $ 10 million. Slaoui’s 156,000 options in Moderna reportedly increased in value by at least $ 3 million following the company’s announcement Monday of preliminary data from the Phase I study of mRNA-1273, its vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. Slaoui resigned from Moderna’s board of directors following his appointment to lead Operation Warp Speed.

Shares of Moderna rose 30% on the Nasdaq when markets opened Monday and closed at 20% above their Friday closing price following the announcement of early data from the Phase I study.

Data from the study, which the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is sponsoring, showed that among the first eight participants enrolled in the 25- and 100-microgram dosing cohorts, levels of neutralizing antibodies were equivalent or in excess of those seen in patients who have recovered from Covid-19. The study is enrolling 105 participants in total across three dosing cohorts, the third of which is receiving the vaccine at 250 micrograms. However, the company plans to abandon the 250-microgram dose in further testing of the vaccine, with the upcoming placebo-controlled Phase II study using 50- and 100-microgram doses and the Phase III study – planned to start in July – using a dose somewhere between 25 and 100 micrograms.

The other company in the lead to develop a vaccine against the Covid-19 virus is Tianjin, China-based CanSino Biologics, which has a Phase II study underway in China and plans to develop its adenovirus-based vaccine in Canada as well. Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech recently began dosing participants in the trial of their vaccine, which like Moderna’s is a messenger RNA vaccine.

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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