Moncef Slaoui, the former scientific director of Covid-19 vaccine development efforts at Operation Warp Speed, was fired from the board of directors of Galvani, a joint venture between Verily and the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, over allegations of sexual harassment, GSK said Wednesday.
“Since February, the highest levels of our company have been working to understand and address what happened,” GSK CEO Emma Walmsley wrote in a note to employees. “Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time. This will continue. I respect and admire her courage and strength. I’ve spent many nights lately putting myself in her shoes. More than anything, this simply should not have happened.”
In a statement, GSK said that it was first made aware of the allegations in a letter in February. It initiated an investigation by an external law firm, Morgan Lewis. The company said the investigation “substantiated the allegations and is ongoing.”
“Dr. Slaoui’s behaviors are wholly unacceptable. They represent an abuse of his leadership position, violate company policies, and are contrary to the strong values that define GSK’s culture,” GSK said.
The alleged harassment occurred several years ago when Slaoui was an employee of GSK, the company said.
Slaoui ran research and development and then vaccines at GSK, positions he held from 2006 until 2017. He was appointed as scientific head of Operation Warp Speed last May and stepped down in January, then briefly served as an adviser to the Biden administration. Slaoui recently returned to his previous role as a venture capitalist and announced the launch of a new company, Centessa Pharmaceuticals.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Slaoui apologized to the woman who came forward with the allegations, saying he felt “terrible” that his actions “put a former colleague in an unfortunate situation.”
He also said he was taking a leave of absence from his “current professional responsibilities effective immediately” to “focus on his family.”
In her note to employees, Walmsley said she expected everyone at the company to represent GSK with integrity, including senior leaders. “We are in an age of progress with a female CEO, growing ranks of female leaders, new commitments to diverse representation, and a culture that values speaking up,” Walmsley wrote.
“On a personal level, I am shocked and angry about all of this, but I’m resolute,” Walmsley added. “I want to be clear that sexual harassment is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated.”
Walmsley added that GSK will rename its Slaoui Center for Vaccines Research in Rockville, Md.