April 16 was a big day for Moderna, a Massachusetts biotech company on the verge of becoming a frontrunner in the U.S. government’s race for a coronavirus vaccine. It had received roughly half a billion dollars in federal funding to develop a COVID shot that might be used on millions of Americans.
Thirteen days after the massive infusion of federal cash — which triggered a jump in the company’s stock price — Moncef Slaoui, a Moderna board member and longtime drug industry executive, was awarded options to buy 18,270 shares in the company, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. The award added to 137,168 options he’d accumulated since 2018, the filings show.
It wouldn’t be long before President Donald Trump announced Slaoui as the top scientific adviser for the government’s $12 billion Operation Warp Speed program to rush COVID vaccines to market. In his Rose Garden speech on May 15, Trump lauded Slaoui as “one of the most respected men in the world” on vaccines.
The Trump administration relied on an unusual maneuver that allowed executives to keep investments in drug companies that would benefit from the government’s pandemic efforts: They were brought on as contractors, doing an end run around federal conflict-of-interest regulations in place for employees. That has led to huge potential payouts — some already realized, according to a Kaiser Health News (KHN) analysis of SEC filings and other government documents.
- Slaoui owned 137,168 Moderna stock options worth roughly $7 million on May 14, one day before Trump announced his senior role to help shepherd COVID vaccines. The day of his appointment, May 15, he resigned from Moderna’s board. Three days later, on May 18, following the company’s announcement of positive results from early-stage clinical trials, the options’ value shot up to $9.1 million, the analysis found. The Department of Health and Human Services said Slaoui sold his holdings May 20, when they would have been worth about $8 million, and will donate certain profits to cancer research. Separately, Slaoui held nearly 500,000 shares in GlaxoSmithKline, where he worked for three decades, upon retiring in 2017, according to corporate filings.