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Operation Warp Speed gains two leaders in effort to accelerate vaccine development

The public and private partnership includes the Department of Defense to enable faster distribution.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced two leadership appointments to Operation Warp Speed, the program of public and private partnership aimed at accelerating the development of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

Venture capitalist Dr. Moncef Slaoui is being brought on as chief advisor.

Slaoui most recently served as a partner at Medicxi Venture Capital and serves as the chairman of the board at Galvani, a bioelectronics research and development company jointly owned by GlaxoSmithKine and Verily Life Sciences.

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General Gustave F. Perna has been named chief operating officer. Perna assumed duties as the 19th Commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command in 2016.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Operation Warp Speed's goal is to have an effective vaccine ready for distribution at an affordable price by January 2021.

Fourteen promising candidates have been chosen from the 100-plus vaccine candidates currently in development. Some are in clinical trials.

These will be winnowed down to about eight, which will go through further testing in early stage, small clinical trials. Large-scale randomized trials will proceed for three to five of the candidates.

Operation Warp Speed will also focus on expanding supplies such as cold-chain storage, glass vials and other materials necessary for distribution.

Once a product is ready, the Department of Defense will enable faster distribution and administration than would have otherwise have been possible using wholly private medical infrastructure, according to the HHS Office of Public Affairs.

THE LARGER TREND

Operation Warp Speed is made up of private pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and the military in a "Manhattan Project-style effort" to have 300 million doses of vaccine available by January, according to Bloomberg.

It includes components of HHS including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. It also includes the departments of Defense, Agriculture, Energy and Veterans Affairs.

Congress has directed almost $10 billion to the effort through supplemental funding, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Over $6.5 billion has been designated by Congress for medical-countermeasure development through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, along with $3 billion for NIH research.

ON THE RECORD

"President Trump's vision for a vaccine by January 2021 will be one of the greatest scientific and humanitarian accomplishments in history, and this is the team that can get it done," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

"In addition to deploying 62,000 military service members in direct support of fighting COVID-19 on frontlines across the globe, the Department of Defense is racing towards a vaccine," said Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper. "Through our research and development, labs such as DARPA and the Defense Health Agency, and our massive logistical knowledge and capacity, we are committed to achieving the goal of Operation Warp Speed for the American people."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com