While leading the efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—a federal agency that is in charge of purchasing and producing disease-combating devices and drugs.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Bright's departure in a statement to CNN on Wednesday. The spokesperson said Bright will be transferred to a new role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he will assist the development of COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Bright' former deputy, Gary Disbrow, is now serving as BARDA's acting director.
Per the HHS 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 ... Dr. Bright brings extensive experience and expertise in facilitating powerful public-private partnerships that advance the health and well-being of the American people.
Bright's attorneys told The New York Times that their client's demotion was "retaliation, plain and simple." Bright, who led BARDA since 2016, said he believed he was removed from the agency because he had opposed pursuing investments in hydroxychloroquine—an anti-malaria drug that Donald Trump promoted as a potential COVID-19 treatment. A recent study concluded the drug, which is also used among lupus patients, showed no benefits in treating the disease and may result in a number of ailments, including irreversible retinal damage and cardiac arrhythmias.
"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," Rick told the Times. "I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way."
Bright also released a formal statement in which he reiterated his commitment to combating the disease, and further explained why he believes he was transferred.
"I have led the government's efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the Covid-19 pandemic," the statement read in part. "Unfortunately, this resulted in clashes with H.H.S. political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections."
President Trump was questioned about Bright's ousting during Wednesday's White House press briefing: "A guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. I don't know who he is."