Former NIH chief favored as Trump’s ‘therapeutics czar’

Zerhouni declined to comment. HHS declined to comment about the search and whether Zerhouni was being considered.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday wrote on Twitter that the White House coronavirus task force would “continue on indefinitely” and be “very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.” Behind the scenes, the administration has been seeking an established leader to guide such work across government agencies, and officials have spent days considering possible candidates and the potential structure of a “therapeutics czar,” who could sit at HHS, the White House or the Department of Defense.

Officials also had sought guidance from Mark McClellan, the former CMS administrator and FDA commissioner, but McClellan told POLITICO he was not pursuing a formal role.

“Developing therapeutics and vaccines is really important, and we are doing a lot of work to support the unprecedented efforts underway, but I have no plans to join the administration,” McClellan said.

Meanwhile, three people said that the administration also had considered Art Levinson, CEO of the biomedical research company Calico, for the role. Levinson did not immediately respond to request for comment. Two people said that officials had also discussed Moncef Slaoui, the former chairman of vaccines at drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. Reached by phone, Slaoui said he had no plans to join the administration.

HHS’ quest to develop a Covid-19 vaccine was disrupted by last month’s sudden ouster of Rick Bright, a top federal vaccine expert, as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Bright has since brought a whistleblower complaint against HHS, and a federal watchdog on Friday recommended that Bright be temporarily reinstated as BARDA’s director.

Meanwhile, Peter Marks, who directs the FDA office that oversees the approval of vaccines and gene therapies, has played a key role as an informal adviser to BARDA and other agencies on vaccine development.