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Head of UK’s COVID-19 vaccine taskforce faces questions over biotech fund

Published on 09/11/20 at 01:27pm
Photo by Retha Ferguson

Kate Bingham, the head of the British Government’s vaccine taskforce, faces scrutiny after it was revealed her venture capital firm has invested in companies developing coronavirus antibody cocktails. 

The Times reported that Bingham, who according to the government  “stepped away” as a managing partner at SV Health Investors when she became head of the taskforce, had said that the firm did not invest in companies related to COVID-19 vaccines. However, it does have shareholdings in Alchemab and Adimab which have been involved in developing antibody treatments. 

Justin Madders, the Shadow Health Minister, said that there was an “extremely concerning pattern of what looks like a cavalier attitude towards the normal standards of probity” and called for greater scrutiny of Bingham. He added that there needs to be clarity on what is meant by Bingham “stepping away” from her role at the firm. 

Bingham is also coming under scrutiny for showing a detailed list of vaccines the UK is closely monitoring to a webinar and network event for women in private equity. Attending the event cost $200 per person. She showed attendees a detailed list of vaccines which the UK government was closely monitoring. She also revealed what type of vaccine the government will soon turn its attention to, focusing on those applied through the mouth, skin and nose. 

The government claims this knowledge was already in the public domain, but the Labour Party has asked for an inquiry to be launched. Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “Precisely who is the current chair of the UK government vaccine taskforce accountable to? Under what UK government code of conduct does this role fall? Will the government publish which code of conduct this is and the full details of it to reassure public confidence?

“What measures has the government taken to both ensure transparency and prevent conflicts of interests or perceived conflicts of interest?”

The government responded to the webinar event with a statement reading: “The fact of her appearance and the content of her presentation received approval from officials at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in line with the process governing such engagements. Bingham focused on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not deduce themselves.”

Conor Kavanagh

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