Rick Bright, who was the director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until earlier this week, claims he was abruptly dismissed from his post and reassigned to another position because he resisted efforts to widen the availability of a potential coronavirus treatment that has been touted by President Donald Trump. "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," Bright said in a statement.
Bright, who led BARDA since 2016, was removed from the post as well as from his role as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response, and assigned instead to a new public-private partnership under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that aims to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and treatment options. Bright alleges he was sidelined because of "clashes with political leadership" and his resistance to "efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections." Specifically, he says he "limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit."
According to two people familiar with the matter, Bright argued directly with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, as well as with Bob Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response. Bright stated that he will ask the HHS inspector general to "investigate the manner in which this administration has politicised 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."
Caitlin Oakley, deputy assistant secretary at the HHS department, said Bright has been moved to the NIH "where he'll work on development and deployment of novel point-of-care testing platforms." She also indicated that it was Bright who requested an emergency-use authorisation from the FDA for donations of the antimalarial drugs that Bayer and Novartis, amongst others, recently made to the Strategic National Stockpile for use on COVID-19 patients.
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