Operation Warp Speed – Moncef Slaoui’s mission to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine

It was in the fall of 2007 when I was attending a major biotech event in Boston. Many top level industry executives were getting on and off the stage to deliver their addresses. The star act was this high flying executive, who was in the middle of fully restructuring GSK’s R&D model. Moncef, one of the most successful vaccine discoverers & developers in history, was currently the Global Head of GSK’s R&D and Vaccine divisions, as well as one of GSK’s board members. Sitting in the audience, it was striking to recognise the clarity of his vision, the sharpness of his rational arguments and the profound emotional intelligence behind the execution model he was implementing in order to make his vision of “personalisation of R&D” a reality. Impressive. At the end of his talk, I naively thought I would approach him to meet with him. A huge number of people had already started lining up to talk to him so I decided to not add my boring “congrats, impressive” obvious message to the many other dozens of people offering similarly unoriginal lines.

A few moments later, luck struck as I needed to get a taxi to go to the airport, Moncef was the penultimate person to join the long wait in the taxi line…just in front of me so I didn’t let this chance go by and we started talking. That was when I started to understand the enormous chance I had to get to know this uniquely charismatic person.

My colleagues at Medicxi too were quickly overcome with admiration by Moncef’s persona. Initially, as business partners as GSK invested in Medicxi’s funds and furthermore as he became a SAB (Scientific Advisory Board) member. His sharp scientific eye helped us to drive towards great innovation and to make numerous important breakthroughs. In addition to his amazingly humble and unassuming attitude, he was a professional that you didn’t want to cease working with as he was just so inspirational.

In 2016 my life sciences partners Kevin, David, Michele, Rich and I were preparing to spin out from Index Ventures, to create what would become Medicxi. It is at this point in time that we realised that over the past 5 years of working in close connection with Moncef we actually felt that Moncef was already one of us…or at least we had the arrogance to feel that way. In hindsight, he is one of the key architects of Medicxi and of our firm’s ethos and vision. We were lucky and proud to be able to have him join us as a partner not only for his remarkable professional experience but also for his profound human qualities.

We are honoured that he has been handpicked for this incredible humanitarian mission, he is the right person for the job. His track record includes 13 vaccines, including ground-breaking contributions towards the development of vaccines for Ebola and malaria. He is the right person for the job because of his incredible work ethic, his drive and his compassion which make him a natural choice for both public health issues and humanitarian goals. Moncef has temporarily stepped down from his role as a full-time partner at Medicxi for the time being, so that his primary objective, his leadership and brains are reunited to help him to focus on finding a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as is humanly possible. Once this pandemic has been resolved we’ll all be present to congratulate him for his selfless endeavour and we’ll be looking forward to having him back full-time on the Medicxi team.

Fast forward to May 15th 2020, and here I am glued to my TV screen watching Moncef deliver his address in the Rose Garden to the American people and to the World at large, as he accepts the responsibilities to lead the newly created Operation Warp Speed.

This time the number of people lining up to talk to him, after his speech, is most certainly even longer and I’m unlikely to be as lucky as I was back in 2007 to be standing right behind him waiting in line for a taxi outside the White House.