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Dr. Eric Lander. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden's pick for top government scientist will have to refrain from working on COVID vaccine matters until he divests as much as $1 million of stock in a company manufacturing one, the White House tells Axios.

Why it matters: Dr. Eric Lander also won't work on any other issues that could affect his sizable portfolio until he's fully divested, the White House said. That could take months, potentially handicapping a key administration hand at a crucial time.

What's new: In financial disclosure paperwork made public Monday, Lander, a renowned MIT geneticist nominated to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, disclosed owning stock worth between $500,000 and $1 million in the company BioNTech.

  • The company is manufacturing a vaccine with Pfizer that was among the first two to receive emergency use authorization.
  • It was just one of scores of holdings in Lander's portfolio, which includes numerous other pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
  • Lander was the founder of the biopharmaceutical company Codiak Biosciences, and disclosed equity in the company worth between $5 million and $25 million. That company has also sought to develop a COVID vaccine.
  • A major Codiak investor, venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, is run by the founder and chairman of COVID vaccine developer Moderna.

What they're saying: A White House spokesperson told Axios that Lander, who is working with the White House even as the Senate considers his nomination, is not participating in decisions that would constitute financial conflicts.

  • "Dr. Lander is recused from particular matters related to any stocks he holds pending divestiture, including any such matters related to COVID vaccines," a White House spokesperson told Axios.
  • Lander is currently advising the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the spokesperson said, and "is complying with all applicable ethics rules and appropriate recusals are in place pending divestiture."

The bottom line: Lander plans to divest his individual stock holdings if confirmed. But until he does, he'll be barred from participating in matters that could benefit BioNTech unless he receives a waiver of relevant ethics rules.

  • That divestment could take up to 90 days, Lander told federal ethics officials, and he's joining an administration working to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a breakneck pace.

Go deeper

Suspect in FedEx shooting identified as 19-year-old former FedEx employee Brandon Hole

Crime scene investigators walk through the FedEx parking lot in Indianapolis the day after a mass shooting left nine dead, including the gunman, who took his own life. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images.

The suspected gunman in Thursday's mass shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility that left at least eight people dead and multiple others wounded, has been identified by local police as 19-year-old Brandon Hole, a former employee of FedEx, a company spokesperson Bonny Harrison told the AP.

The latest: Law enforcement has not yet uncovered the shooter's motive. Police Chief Randal Taylor said Friday morning that the warehouse employed a "significant" number of Sikhs, AP reports, and the Sikh Coalition confirmed that members of its community were among those who were injured and killed.

The legacy of Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff, architect of the largest Ponzi scheme in American history, died on Wednesday in federal prison, 11 years into his 150-year sentence.

Axios Re:Cap digs into Madoff’s crimes, what they revealed about America's financial system and what changed after the scheme came crashing down with Diana B. Henriques, author of the The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Russia to expel 10 U.S diplomats, ban top Biden officials in response to sanctions

Photo: Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images

Russia will expel 10 U.S. diplomats and add eight current and former U.S. officials to its no-entry list in retaliation for sanctions that the Biden administration leveled at Moscow on Friday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday.

Why it matters: The measures come after the U.S. said it would expel 10 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover, as part of a broad package of sanctions retaliating against the SolarWinds hack of federal agencies and Russia's interference in the 2020 election.