Former GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty to co-lead WHO's coronavirus vaccine effort

UnitedHealth Group announced Wednesday that company president Andrew Witty, who is also CEO of the group's Optum pharmacy benefit management business, has been asked "to co-lead a global effort" of the World Health Organization (WHO) to speed up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Witty, who stepped down as chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline in 2017 after nearly 10 years at the helm, will be on a leave of absence from UnitedHealth while leading the WHO initiative, and plans to return to the company by about the end of the year.

"While CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, [Witty] gained global recognition for his efforts to develop and expand access to critically needed vaccines," UnitedHealth stated. During Witty's temporary assignment with the WHO, which starts on April 20, UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann will oversee operations at Optum. "I am deeply honored to help lead this mission to seek a COVID-19 vaccine," said Witty, adding "I look forward to rejoining [colleagues at Optum] on the other side of this crisis."

Meanwhile, current GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley recently suggested the world will likely need more than one COVID-19 vaccine "when you think about demand in this hugely challenged global health crisis." Earlier this week, the UK drugmaker and Sanofi said they would be joining forces to develop an adjuvanted vaccine against COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in clinical testing include Inovio Pharmaceuticals' INO-4800 and Moderna's mRNA-1273. For related analysis, see ViewPoints: COVID-19 vaccines in focus.

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