Dubai: United States President Donald Trump has named Dr Moncef Slaoui, an American-Moroccan expert in immunology and vaccinology, to lead the team tasked with developing a vaccine to fight coronavirus .
According to US media, Slaoui will guide a group of medical professionals to formulate a vaccine to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.
In his announcement, Trump introduced Dr Slaoui as a “world-known immunologist” and "one of the most respected men in the world in the production and formulation of vaccines". After the press conference at the White House, where Slaoui delivered a speech, social media users, particularly Moroccans, went berserk in celebrating the occasion. The Arab Muslim will now be leading the 'Warp Speed' operation in the US.
Dr Slaoui, though, was not the only Arab on the Trump short list for this prestigious assignment. Algerian Elias Zerhouni, a scientist, radiologist and biomedical engineer who had migrated to the US after obtaining his doctorate in Algeria, was also in the running for this crucial position. However, Dr Slaoui was preferred over him.
Dr Slaoui is a Moroccan-Muslim, who was born and raised in Morocco. He left his country to pursue his university education in Europe.
Sixty-year-old Slaoui will serve as the chief adviser for the project on a volunteer basis. The project seeks to produce 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year.
Dr Slaoui is credited with being a part of many vaccine development projects in the past. Two of these being the development of Rotarixm, which prevents diarrhoea in infants, and Cervarix, which protects women against cervical cancer. According to the White House website, he has contributed towards the development of 14 vaccines over the last ten years.
Moncef Slaoui comes from a small city on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean called Aghadir. He was born in 1959. His father worked in the irrigation business and died when Slaoui was still a teenager, leaving Slaoui's mother to single-handedly raise him and his four siblings.
Slaoui went through the Moroccan public school system until he obtained a baccalaureate (high school) from Mohamed V Secondary School in Casablanca.
He was 17 when he travelled to France to study medicine, but he missed the registration dates. So he moved to Belguim where he enrolled at the Free University of Brussels and later completed his BS and Masters degrees in biology.
In 1983, Dr Slaoui earned his PhD in microbiology and immunology from the same university and then moved on to the US where he took postgraduate courses at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. In 1998, he received an accelerated MBA from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland.
Dr Slaoui retired in 2017 from the position of the head of the vaccines division at pharmaceutical major GlaxoSmithKline, where he had worked for almost 30 years. He also sits on the boards of several companies involved in vaccine development programmes. He has been a board member of Moderna Inc., one of the leading US companies involved in vaccine development. Last month, he joined the board of Lonza.