The doctor who was heading up the office tasked with creating a coronavirus vaccine says he was dismissed from his appointment partly because he did not endorse increasing availability of the drug treatment being pushed by President Trump.
Dr. Rick Bright was put in charge of BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, in 2016 until his dismissal. Bright says he intends to file a whistleblower complaint.
In a statement, Bright said, “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.”
He said, “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.” He referred to “clashes with political leadership” and his reluctance to go along with “efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” as reasons for his downgraded position.
Two sources close to the situation told CNN that Bright had a conflict with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and with the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, Bob Kadlec, although a senior official with the HHS denied those rumors.
Deputy assistant secretary at HHS gave her version on the events, refuting Bright’s claims: “Dr. Bright has departed BARDA to NIH where he’ll work on development and deployment of novel point-of-care testing platforms… As it relates to chloroquine, it was Dr. Bright who requested an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for donations of chloroquine that Bayer and Sandoz recently made to the Strategic National Stockpile for use on COVID-19 patients. The EUA is what made the donated product available for use in combating COVID-19.”
Bright stated that he “limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit.”
Trump caused a flurry of controversy when he began touting the effects of the drug during White House briefings and has continued to do so.
When asked about the controversy surrounding Bright, the President claimed he hadn’t heard of him. “I’ve never heard of him. When did this happen? I never heard of him. Guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.”
The Department of Health and Human Services’ spokesperson issued the following statement: “On April 17, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a new public-private partnership — the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) partnership — to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment options. At the same time, given the simultaneous importance of accelerating the development of diagnostic tests for COVID-19, Dr. Rick Bright will transfer the skills he has applied as Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to the National Institutes of Health, as part of a bold plan to accelerate the development and deployment of novel point-of-care testing platforms.”
Bright had previously been the director of the agency’s influenza and Emerging Infectious Diseases Division director before he was prompoted to lead it in 2016.
BARDA is a small, but powerful agency with remarkable purchasing power. Though little-known, it is especially critical during a pandemic, which is why Bright’s abrupt departure surprised his colleagues. Bright was removed from his position but is not resigning, the source familiar said. He said Wednesday he will request that the HHS inspector general “investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit.” He has not yet filed the request, according to the source, but intends to do so in the next day or so.His lawyers said in the statement that that they will request a stay of the termination and that Bright “be permitted to remain in his position” pending the investigation’s findings.