Brigham president stepping down after Moderna controversy

The president of Brigham Health will step down March 1 after more than a decade in the role following criticism over a perceived conflict of interest with Moderna.

Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel resigned from the drugmaker’s board in July shortly after Brigham announced its flagship Brigham and Women’s Hospital was a clinical research site in the phase 3 trial for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Nabel didn’t cite the kerfuffle in an email to colleagues explaining her upcoming departure. Instead, she wrote that she had only intended to occupy the role for a decade—which she hit in January 2020—and later extended that to the end of calendar 2020.

“As the year unfolded and the pandemic surged, it became clear that it wasn’t the right time, so I put my plans on hold,” she said.

Now, Nabel wrote, the health system has strong leadership under Brigham Board Chair John Fish and Mass General Brigham CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski.

Klibanski will initiate a succession planning process to fill Nabel’s role with the system’s Board of Trustees. Klibanski said in a statement that Nabel led Mass General Brigham’s flagship Boston hospital with “vision and compassion.”

“Through her leadership at the system level, Betsy has helped shape our vision of a leading integrated academic health system, allowing us to meet the needs of our patients in a much more impactful way,” Klibanski said.

After she departs, Nabel said she will pursue opportunities in biotechnology innovation, first working alongside her husband as he launches a new venture aimed at developing immune therapies for cancer and infectious diseases. Dr. Gary Nabel recently stepped down from his role as drugmaker Sanofi’s chief scientific officer.

“I have a deep affection for our people, culture and values, and I intend to stay connected to the Brigham as a friend and supporter,” Nabel wrote to colleagues. “This community, and its mission and vision, will remain in my heart forever.”

Nabel’s letter contained no mention of Moderna, which paid her $487,500 in cash and stock awards to serve on its board in 2019, according to the company’s proxy statement.

The Lown Institute this week named Nabel among the recipients of its 2020 Shkreli Awards, which highlight the “worst examples of profiteering and dysfunction in healthcare.” Lown’s judges specifically cited the fact that Nabel wrote an op-ed defending high drug prices as necessary for innovation, but failed to disclose her role on Moderna’s board. Lown wrote that Nabel sold $8.5 million worth of Moderna stock last year after it had quadrupled in price on news of the early success of its COVID vaccine.

“In an era of rampant misinformation and greed-driven decision making, this action should warrant loss of licensure,” wrote Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Michigan State University. “A case example of a failure of ethical leadership.”

In her time as Brigham’s president, Nabel executed a nearly $1.8 billion fundraising campaign, the largest hospital campaign in Boston’s history, the organization said in a news release. She also oversaw a physical transformation of the campus and the integration with Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. Nabel also helped launched the Brigham Education Institute in 2016 to support medical education for trainees, faculty and other healthcare professionals.


Tags: covid-19, pandemic

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