Dr. Rick Bright, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), claimed this week that he was removed from his position because he questioned the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a treatment for the coronavirus.
Politico reported that Bright was transferred to “a new, more narrow role at the National Institutes of Health this week” after being removed as director of BARDA and also losing his role as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
“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 to The New York Times. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”
However, there appears to be more to the story as Bright reportedly praised Trump’s push for using the drug.
Three people with knowledge of HHS’ recent acquisition of tens of millions of doses of those drugs said Bright had supported those acquisitions in internal communications, with one official saying that Bright praised the move as a win for the health department as part of an email exchange that was first reported by Reuters last week, although Bright’s message was not publicly reported.
“If Bright opposed hydroxychloroquine, he certainly didn’t make that clear from his email — quite the opposite,” said the official, who has seen copies of the email exchanges.
Politico reporter Dan Diamond wrote on Twitter that the Trump administration had been working to remove Bright since last year for “incompetence and insubordination.”
The Trump administration has been working to oust Bright since last year, as officials battled with him over his management and leadership.
With permission, sharing this time-stamped text from individual with knowledge of those fights. pic.twitter.com/ExYILm1pQI
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) April 22, 2020
But the Trump administration’s leadership team long faulted Bright for an array of management problems, including complaints about BARDA’s pace and strategy, concerns echoed by outside observers. For instance, Bright steered multiple investments with companies like Roche and Sanofi to develop what are known as IL-6 inhibitors, which target potential drivers of inflammation in Covid-19 patients with severe disease; scientists have found evidence that the IL-6 agents could prevent some of the ravages of Covid-19. But leaders and observers thought the decisions were duplicative, noting that Eli Lilly is also pursuing a government-backed investigation into IL-6 inhibitors too. …
Bright clashed with his boss, Robert Kadlec, the Trump administration’s assistant secretary of emergency and preparedness, over his leadership style and specific issues like whether BARDA was hewing to its mission of research and development or inappropriately expanding its portfolio into procurement too, said three people.
Journalist Jeryl Bier noted that Bright had requested last month that “the FDA issue an ‘Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for emergency use of oral formulations of chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate for the treatment of 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19)…'”
Bier added that The New York Times did not mention the emergency request in their report about Bright.
This "emergency" request to allow doctors to prescribe chloroquine is not mentioned in this @maggieNYT–@shearm @nytimes piece about Bright's ouster, though Bright seems to allude to it here:https://t.co/oHcYySBdal pic.twitter.com/oBXwAFDhLH
— jerylbier (@JerylBier) April 23, 2020
NRSC Senior Adviser Matt Whitlock also noted that Bright made a rather interesting move in hiring “very political” attorney Debra Katz, who represented Christine Blasey Ford when she made her unsubstantiated allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
I'm sure we'll find out lots more about the circumstances around this, but seems notable that one of his first moves was to hire very political lawyer Dr. Debra Katz, who represented Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford. https://t.co/xokfjGW9uf
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) April 22, 2020