Update (August 9, 2021): Rick Bright will be compensated for “emotional stress and reputational damage” following the settlement of his whistleblower complaint against the federal government, though the details of the agreement remain undisclosed, The New York Times reports. Bright claims that the administration of former President Donald Trump put “politics and cronyism ahead of science” and removed him from his position overseeing COVID-19 vaccine development efforts because he pushed for more research into the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine before issuing an emergency use authorization for its use for COVID-19. The Times reports that the Office of Special Counsel is still investigating those allegations.
Update (May 8): Rick Bright’s lawyers announced that the federal agency investigating his removal from the position of BARDA director has uncovered evidence that the Trump administration retaliated against Bright, The New York Times reports. The lawyers added that the agency recommends Bright be reinstated pending the outcome of the investigation. “It will now be up to the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, to decide whether to let the special counsel investigate and send Dr. Bright back to B.A.R.D.A.,” the Times states.
Update (May 5): Rick Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), pressured him to issue an emergency use authorization for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment and that his public comments about the drug’s risks may have contributed to his termination as BARDA director, STAT reports. Both the House and Senate had previously requested that HHS look into Bright’s employment transfer, CNN reports.
Update (April 23): Rick Bright said in a statement on Wednesday (April 22) that he thinks he was removed as BARDA director because he had pushed for more research on hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that President Donald Trump and others have touted as a promising coronavirus treatment despite only weak evidence so far, The New York Times reports. “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 writes in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”
The government agency that has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates is undergoing a change of leadership, STAT reported yesterday (April 21). Rick Bright, who has led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) since 2016, is stepping down as director and will be taking a position at the National Institutes of Health to work on coronavirus testing platforms. Former Deputy Director Gary Disbrow will replace Bright as acting director of BARDA.
BARDA has partnerships with Moderna Therapeutics, which launched a clinical trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine last month, and with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, which is expected to start human testing in a few months. In the most recent coronavirus stimulus package, BARDA will receive another $1 billion for COVID-19-related work, according to The Hill.
The reason for the personnel change is unclear. Some officials tell STAT that Bright had some conflict with Bob Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the person to whom Bright reported.
“Dr. Rick Bright will transfer the skills he has applied as Director of the [BARDA] to the [NIH],” an HHS spokesperson tells STAT. “Dr. Bright brings extensive experience and expertise in facilitating powerful public-private partnerships that advance the health and well-being of the American people.”