Fuad El-Hibri, Who Led a Troubled Vaccine Maker, Dies at 64

Fuad El-Hibri, whose biotech company won billions of dollars in government contracts to manufacture a vaccine against anthrax but stumbled in 2021, when being hired to produce Covid vaccines, it had to throw out 75 million contaminated doses of the vaccine, died on April 23 at his home in Potomac, Md. He was 64.

His death was announced in a statement by his family. A representative for the family said the cause was pancreatic cancer.

Mr. El-Hibri’s Maryland-based company, Emergent BioSolutions, was an obscure player in government contracting the world, but an influential one: it deployed extensive lobbying efforts and campaign contributions to secure a near-monopoly production on an anthrax vaccine. early 2000s. The contract is accounted for about half the budget for the Strategic National Stockpile, a medical reserve held in case of crises like a bioweapons attack or a pandemic.

Though the relationship occasionally drew scrutiny – including an extensive investigation by The New York Times in March 2021 – it also made Mr. El-Hibri’s company developed a seemingly obvious choice to produce Covid vaccines by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Emergent received a $ 628 million contract from the federal government in 2020.

But in fact, Emergent wasn’t at all ready for that imposing task. Although it was already part of a government program to scale up vaccine production rapidly into an emergency, it had yet to demonstrate such a capability when it began to churn out covid vaccines in early 2021.

In March of that year, the company announced that because of a worker error, some 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been contaminated and had to be discarded. Production nationwide shut down temporarily, creating a political headache for the Biden administration, which has been hoping for a smooth rollout to tamp down vaccine hesitancy.

Congress launched an investigation, and in May El-Hibri, who was Emergent’s executive chairman, and Robert G. Kramer, the company’s chief executive, testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus.

While both men defended the company and cited the unprecedented challenge their task presented, Mr. El-Hibri was contrite about its failures.

“The cross-contamination incident is unacceptable,” he said, “period.”

About 60 million additional doses were found to be contaminated in June.

Fuad El-Hibri was born on March 2, 1958, in Hildesheim, Germany, the son of Elizabeth (Trunk) El-Hibri, a homemaker, and Ibrahim El-Hibri, an engineer and entrepreneur. He grew up in Lebanon and Germany and graduated from Stanford University in 1980 with a degree in economics. He received a master’s degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management in 1982.

Mr. El-Hibri began his career with Citicorp in Saudi Arabia and later worked for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in Indonesia. After returning to the United States, he started a business that helped national telecom companies upgrade their networks in Russia, Venezuela and El Salvador.

In the 1990s, he advised the Saudi Arabian government to buy millions of doses of anthrax vaccine. That experience seeded the idea for what became Emergent BioSolutions.

He co-founded the company, originally called BioPort, in 1998. He and his partners, including William J. Crowe, a former admiral, soon won a bid to buy a disused government laboratory in Lansing, Mich., And upgrade it. anthrax vaccines for the US military

The company changed its name to Emergent BioSolutions in 2004. It went public in 2006.

Although it was recently focused on just one product and one customer (it also produced Narcan, used to treat opioid overdoses), Emergent grew rich under Mr. El-Hibri’s leadership, reporting $ 1.5 billion in revenue in 2020.

As The Times’ investigation found, the company’s financial success was in part attributable to its aggressive efforts to win a large portion of its strategic stockpile’s budget. Many experts consider it an outsize chunk, given the relatively low risk of a widespread anthrax attack and the option to use cheap antibiotics for many cases.

“Purchases are supposed to be based on careful assessments by government officials on how best to save lives,” the investigation found, “but many have also been influenced by Emergent’s bottom line.”

Mr. El-Hibri and his wife were prolific campaign donors; They gave about $ 1 million between 2018 and 2021, mostly to Republican candidates. An employee on the political action committee gave $ 1.4 million more over the same period.

Those connections proved crucial in the fall of 2020, when Emergent was one of two facilities contracted to produce Covid vaccines. Shortly afterward, Mr. El-Hibri cashed out $ 42 million in shares and stock options.

After the production debacle at Emergent became public, the company faced an uprising by shareholders, including a lawsuit accusing it of committing securities fraud by falsely claiming it was ready to produce the vaccine in order to boost its value of its stock.

Mr. El-Hibri stepped down as chairman of Emergent BioSolutions on April 1.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy (Grunenwald) El-Hibri; his mother; his brother, Samir; his sister, Yasmin El-Hibri Gibellini; his daughters, Faiza and Yusra El-Hibri; his son, Karim; and three grandchildren.

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