November 2, 2020
MPs have called for explanations after it emerged that the head of the Government’s vaccine taskforce might have revealed potentially sensitive information to conference attendees last week.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, asked why Kate Bingham, who chairs the taskforce, had told investors which potential developers of Covid-19 treatments the Government was looking at closely.
“Why are private investors, who could profit from knowing this info, being told more than the British public?” Ms Rayner asked.
The Sunday Times said Ms Bingham, who is married to Conservative Treasury minister Jesse Norman, had spoken to a conference in the US last Wednesday.
During the conference, which was streamed online to anyone for a fee of 200 US dollars (£156), she allegedly revealed the names of several companies that the Government had not yet publicly said it was interested in potentially working with.
The companies included Canada’s Symvivo, Medicago, which is owned by cigarette maker Philip Morris, and Vaxart, which is publicly traded in the US, the Sunday Times reported.
Ms Bingham is a managing partner with SV Health Investors, a fund manager, for which she co-leads UK biotechnology investments.
She has not stepped down from the job during her work with the taskforce, and will be rejoining SV again full-time at the end of the year, according to its website.
The Government said that it was addressing “inaccuracies” in the Sunday Times’s story with the newspaper, without revealing details.
It added: “The fact of her appearance and the content of her presentation received approval from officials at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy in line with the process governing such engagements.
“Kate Bingham focused on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not deduce themselves.”
It added that, despite her lack of experience with vaccines, Ms Bingham is “uniquely qualified for the role”, having a track record of finding and investing in new drugs.
Ms Bingham is set to appear in front of MPs this week when she gives evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee on Wednesday.
The committee does not reveal in advance what questions it will touch on during the session.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The UK is leading the international effort to fight the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic through the development of a clinically safe and effective vaccine, thanks to the vaccine taskforce.
“Her role involves close discussion with a wide range of companies from pharmaceutical and manufacturing firms to clinical organisations, as well as with medical and academic communities.
“She regularly takes opportunities to speak with people about progress towards a vaccine, including at conferences.”