A researcher in immunology originally from Morocco, Moncef Slaoui has been entrusted by US President Donald Trump with the scientific direction of an ambitious program. His objective? To find a vaccine against coronavirus.
- Saviour of America?
It is to this 60-year-old man, holder of the triple Moroccan-Belgo-American nationality, that Donald Trump has just entrusted the scientific direction of the “Warp Speed” operation. His goal? To rapidly develop a vaccine against coronavirus so that millions of doses will be available before the end of the year.
After a career of almost 30 years with the pharmaceutical group GSK, he joins Moderna’s Board of Directors in 2017. Moderna is currently conducting clinical trials on a coronavirus vaccine. In order to avoid any conflict of interest, he was forced to sell the 156,000 Moderna stock options he still held, for more than $10 million.
- Mentor and competitor
At GSK, he was head of the vaccines department – a position previously held by his mentor Jean Stéphenne – before becoming the group’s number two. A leading figure in the pharmaceutical world, Stéphenne is currently managing CureVac, a German laboratory that is also researching a vaccine against coronavirus.
Born in Agadir, he witnessed as a child the death of his sister, who died of whooping cough. It was at this time that his vocation was born. His record in research and development is impressive: he has contributed to the development of fourteen vaccines, including against uterine cancer and childhood rotavirus gastroenteritis.
- Belgian History
After graduating from the Lycée Mohammed-V in Casablanca, he failed to enrol at the faculty in France and had to decide to join the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). He thought he would only stay there for a year, but he finally completed his studies in the country and obtained Belgian nationality.
IF HE FOUND A VACCINE AGAINST COVID-19, THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR MEDICINE WOULD BE ALL FOR HIM IN 2021.
- Disappointed hopes
In 1986, he tried to return to Morocco, but the medical faculties of Rabat and Casablanca showed little interest in his specialization in immunology and molecular biology. From then on, he understood that his place was elsewhere.
Back in Belgium, he does not break the ties with his country of origin. The many Moroccan medical students of the ULB remember this brilliant and pleasant young doctor who rendered many services to them.
- Virus of love
In the late 1990s, while a university professor in Belgium, he decided to follow his future wife, virologist Kristen Belmonte, to the United States (she had been recruited across the Atlantic to work on an AIDS vaccine). During the first years, he took advantage of this opportunity to pursue post-doctoral studies at Harvard University and then in Boston.
- One size fits all
A renowned researcher, he has over 100 scientific papers and presentations to his credit. He is also a member of several boards of directors and advisory committees of various foundations interested in medical research. Among them, the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
- Future Nobel Prize winner?
In 2016, Fortune magazine already ranked him 29th in its top 50 “personalities who are changing the world”. In 2021, the Nobel Prize in Medicine would be all for him if he managed to be the first to develop a vaccine against coronavirus.