The recently demoted director of the federal agency leading COVID-19 research says he was given the boot because he insisted on thoroughly vetting the drug that President Donald Trump has sold as a miracle cure, hydroxychloroquine.
Dr. Rick Bright, a career government scientist, was until this week the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services. Stat News first reported Tuesday that Bright had been suddenly moved to a narrower role in the National Institutes of Health.
In a statement to the New York Times, Bright didn’t mince any words about the reasons for the demotion: He stood in the way of Trump’s favored potential COVID-19 treatment.
“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 told the Times. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”
“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.
The drugs are seen as potential therapies for COVID-19, but broad scientific proof to support their widespread use is nonexistent. A recent VA study was one of several that did not determine the drugs to be helpful against the viral disease.
Nonetheless, in recent weeks Trump has repeatedly promoted the drugs as potential globe-changing cures for the pandemic disease.
“I want them to try it,” the President said at a press conference earlier this month, one of many appeals for the unproven potential therapies. “And it may work, and it may not work. But if it doesn’t work, it’s nothing lost by doing it. Nothing.”
The FDA recently issued an unusual emergency authorization allowing BARDA to distribute hydroxychloroquine pills that it had been donated to hospitals for use with COVID-19 patients.
“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 told the Times.
“I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed Covid-19 while under the supervision of a physician,” he added, saying that he would 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 and efforts that lack scientific merit.”
“Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths,” Bright said. “Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.”
Bright said in his statement that he clashed with HHS political leadership over vaccine investment and other matters, as well as “efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” though he did not specify who.