WASHINGTON — Rick Bright, the U.S. official who was ousted this week from a post atop an agency charged with developing vaccines, has decided to put the Trump administration on trial. The charge: politicizing science.

In Bright’s telling, he is the first clear casualty of a White House war on the scientific process, unceremoniously demoted for refusing to invest federal money in an untested coronavirus therapy that President Trump has nonetheless embraced. He alleges, too, that he had to resist “efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” in a statement first reported by the New York Times.

But Bright’s story is complicated by what multiple sources described to STAT as long-simmering tensions between him and his former direct boss, Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response Bob Kadlec, a Trump appointee. The sources, a former Trump administration official and an industry source with close ties to BARDA, said Kadlec had been unhappy with Bright’s performance for months.

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Trump, asked about Bright’s statement Wednesday, said, “A guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know who he is.” HHS did not immediately comment on Bright’s ouster or his allegations.

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For weeks, there have been signs that the Trump administration is politicizing science: President Trump has repeatedly extolled the virtues of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. But the drug has not been tested as a Covid-19 medication in a placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial, the scientific gold standard for determining a drug’s efficacy. Some anecdotal evidence has even shown that the drug could potentially do more harm than good for Covid-19 patients.

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Bright cited the drug in his statement, but the former federal official specifically questioned Bright’s assertion that he had resisted the broad use of hydroxychloroquine.

As Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Bright was directly involved in the government’s March decision to accept donations of both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine from the drug makers Novartis and Bayer — and the former Trump administration source said he supported those acquisitions in internal communications.

He also played a role in the Food and Drug Administration’s controversial decision to issue a so-called Emergency Use Authorization for the products, which allowed the drugs to be added to the national stockpile. The FDA’s authorization is addressed to Bright directly — a clear sign that he requested the authorization as the BARDA director.

Kadlec, the sources also said, had long been unhappy with BARDA’s slow pace for funding new projects.

This week, Bright, the BARDA director since 2016, was reassigned to a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health, a move first reported by STAT. There, he is supposed to be working on an initiative related to point-of-care diagnostics.

Bright’s new lawyers, however, have requested a stay of his reassignment, pending investigations from the HHS Office of Special Counsel and the HHS Inspector General that they are also requesting.

Already, those calls have been echoed by Democrats in Congress: Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday called for HHS inspector general to investigate Bright’s ouster, arguing it “raises serious questions whether the Trump administration retaliated against him for advocating for science and against Trump’s misinformation.”

Lev Facher contributed reporting.

  • A disgruntled employee that now hopefully will be removed from government service. Hydroxychloroquine , it should be noted is being used by Doctors all over country and likely on a protocol at a hospital near all of the commentators below. Doctors using it due to the best of evidence we had/have to date. It works and trials will detail where best and when. The Hate-Trump crowd deserve the contempt they get; Hate is irrational

  • as another govt bureaucrat gets rightfully canned, he whines about the boss who dares to do the job …….

  • The Presidents actions are no surprise. He is confused as to his role. He behaves like a dictator and fires many who has opposed his views. Chronic pain patients lost their medication. He was too slow to react to the covid 19 virus this action cost precious lives. He needs to stay out of anthing scientific or medical. Leave that to the educated who have the knowledge to invent a covid 19 vaccine.

  • From what I’ve seen from BARDA before COVID ever began, this guy should have been fired long ago. Classic government move that he gets reassigned to a new job. With 20M people newly unemployed what is the excuse for this guy to continue to have a job?

  • I wrote in previous comments to STAT in early reports, that HCQ and Zpak was “worthless” for the treatment of critical cases of Covid19. Many other commenters jumped all over me and basically said I didn’t know what I was talking about. Well now the truth is finally being revealed. So is HCQ Zpak “worthless” for treating serious Covid19 cases?

    • Trump did not prescribe anything. He strongly suggested it should be looked into as it should. Times like this require creative thinking. Establishment medicine is at a deficit right now. Fauci maybe has forgotten how AIDS treatment became viable. It outsiders and active protests to get solutions. Just saying we need data will not cut it in this present hour. You have to actually try new things to get the data. I certainly hope hydroxychloroquine has potential. It would be a simple solution it if proves effective. Just have to be objective and look at dosing closely to make sure politics does not sabotage the process. I am quite certain we will come out of this thing on top. Hopefully reforms in the FDA approval process and better science to base hypotheses on. I like the systems type approach of the guy who invented email.

  • What I am hearing is: disgruntled employee instructed by his lawyers to diss Trump, who doesn’t know him from Adam, by going “public” with a political narrative the lawyers will use as a PR jumping off point as a prelude to a constructive termination claim.

  • Why would he suppress a scientific clinical trial of a drug that is being used off-label globally? Isn’t that anti-science and of urgent public interest?

    I guess Trump’s calling for antibody tests, vaccines, and respirators also politicizes science.

    And subjugating hundreds of millions of humans to the vagaries of unproven models built on chaotic hunches, disputed by peers on this very website and very real outcomes in Sweden, is an example of using pseudo-science to justify a political outcome.

    Did this guy actually develop any of the vaccines he was supposed to develop?

    • Andrew, Trump, who is no doctor should never weigh in on prescribing or strongly suggesting the use of a particular drug for anything. Certainly not on public television, at a briefing. If he wants to talk off the cuff in private, that is another matter. He is too loose with his mouth. Drugs and medications should be prescribed to their patients by qualified physicians. Trump is not qualified, is not certified, never studied medicine, and needs to respect experts. We’ve had enough of his so called expertise and diplomatic, economic skills. Please, just resign and go quietly. We’ll stay together through this crisis, we’ll stay home to bring down the curve, we’ll wear masks, but you, Mr Trump, also need to do the responsible thing and stop talking about liberating this state or that when they don’t abide by the guidelines put out by the White House. Too many mixed messages from a very mixed up president. Poor leadership. Party’s over.

  • Let’s see what the math looks like here so far.

    1) Dem lawyers (Blasey-Ford ring any bells?) unleash massive amounts of paper
    2) Again. Calls for an Inspector General make the front page of NYT/WaPo
    3) Dems in Congress “echo” yet another wonderful, time-consuming waste of time. They have no other pressing business.

    Yip.

    It’s Trump’s fault.

  • The article confirmed my suspicion. Glad he’s fighting back. I hope this gets resolved amicably.

    • What we do not need is Mr. Trump telling us whether or not a drug is effective against Covid-19 or anything else. Hydroxychloroquine can cause heart failure in some people, liver damage in others. It’s not something to be scattered around as a publicity stunt to show that the President is “doing something”. We need Dr. Bright and other scientists like him to develop real, working ways to control this terrible pandemic and not use the American public to experiment on, like President Trump is doing with his recommendations of an untested and dangerous drug. This is NOT Nazi Germany in the 1930’s

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