Doctor says he was removed from federal post after opposing funding for unproven drugs

The former head of the federal office that will be at the forefront of developing a cure for COVID-19 said he was forced out after he prioritized science instead of promoting unproven treatments.

In a statement, Rick Bright said he was removed as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) because he limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two drugs that President Trump repeatedly pushed as potential cures without evidence.

The New York Times was the first to report Bright’s statement. 

Bright was moved to a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“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. 

Bright said he “resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”

“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” Bright said.

Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria and conditions such as lupus and arthritis, and has not been approved for COVID-19. 

Trump has called it a “game changer” against COVID-19, despite limited anecdotal evidence that it works.

“While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Bright said.

BARDA is a small agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that was created in 2006 to help invest in drug and vaccine development projects for pandemic diseases such as Ebola and Zika.

The agency is expected to be at the forefront of public-private partnerships to develop a treatment for COVID-19. The most recent stimulus bill gives the agency an additional $1 billion to research, develop, manufacture and purchase COVID-19-related materials.

“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Bright said.

An NIH spokesperson said on Tuesday that Bright would be working to accelerate the development and deployment of new point-of-care coronavirus testing platforms.

In a statement sent late Wednesday, an HHS spokeswoman said it was Bright’s support for chloroquine that directly led to the agency’s acquisition of the drug.

“As it relates to chloroquine, it was Dr. Bright who requested an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for donations of chloroquine that Bayer and Sandoz recently made to the Strategic National Stockpile for use on COVID-19 patients,” Caitlin Oakley said. “The EUA is what made the donated product available for use in combating COVID-19.” 

Bright is represented by attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall & Banks.

In a statement, Katz and Banks said Bright’s removal was “retaliation plain and simple. The results from the Administration’s refusal to listen to the experts and to sideline those like Dr. Bright who point out any errors in the government’s response will continue to be catastrophic for the American people.”

Katz and Banks said they will request that the Office of Special Counsel seek a stay of Bright’s termination, and that he be permitted to remain in his position pending an investigation.

Updated at 11:30 a.m.

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