WASHINGTON — Rick Bright, the ousted head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, has filed a formal whistleblower complaint alleging he was involuntarily transferred to a lower position at the National Institutes of Health because he raised concerns about the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response and about nepotism in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the most explosive accusations: Bright’s complaint alleges he was pressured by HHS Secretary Alex Azar to allow the distribution of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, unproven as a Covid-19 treatment that has nevertheless been championed by President Trump. According to the complaint, Bright worked “frantically,” alongside top Food and Drug Administration official Janet Woodcock, to resist a plan to distribute the drug widely.

Woodcock, according to the complaint, urged Bright directly to issue a so-called emergency use authorization that would allow the drug to be added to the national stockpile, but not distributed widely.

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“The HHS clinical and regulatory expert teams worked frantically for 48 hours without sleep to come up with a plan that would ensure the greatest level of safety for people who received this drug,” the complaint states. “Dr. Bright and Dr. Woodcock ultimately prevailed upon their colleagues, and the FDA assisted BARDA in drafting an EUA request and provided it to Dr. Bright on the evening of March 28, 2020.”

Bright also alleges his decision to speak to a reporter about the dangers of hydroxychloroquine may have played a role in his ultimate ousting.

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“HHS leadership, including Secretary Azar and Dr. Kadlec, were already gunning for Dr. Bright’s removal,” the complaint states. “But they chose to remove him as BARDA Director within days of publication of the article about chloroquine because they suspected that he was the source.”

As the head of BARDA, Bright played a leading role in doling out government funding for infectious disease treatments. STAT first reported on April 21 that Bright had been unwillingly reassigned to a narrower position at the National Institutes of Health. Bright will also testify before a subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee on May 14, an attorney for Bright announced Tuesday.

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Bright’s 89-page complaint, which also includes 60 pages of exhibits, details several other alleged clashes between him and HHS leadership over the administration’s Covid-19 response.

Bright alleges that even in January, he was repeatedly pressing the department to address looming supply chain issues, including for N95 masks, but his complaints fell on deaf ears. Bright alleges he was eventually cut out of the administration’s Covid-19 response meetings.

“Lack of leadership and action by [other HHS officials] has placed the health and safety of all Americans at risk of not being protected from the deadly coronavirus even when a vaccine becomes available,” the complaint states. 

The explosive complaint also contains a number of highly detailed accusations of nepotism surrounding Bob Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS. The complaint alleges Kadlec repeatedly pressured Bright over the course of a number of years to fund scientifically dubious projects connected to personal friends.

The complaint alleges that a small circle of biotech companies, including Aeolus Pharmaceuticals, Alvogen, Partner Therapeutics, and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics got special access to Kadlec through an industry consultant at Tiber Creek Partners.

The complaint also alleges that Bright was made aware that Aeolus, in particular, has connections to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

Congress’ March decision to appropriate $3.5 billion directly to BARDA further strained Bright’s relationship with Kadlec, the complaint alleges. 

According to the complaint, Bright appealed directly to lawmakers for more funding to respond to the coronavirus after Kadlec tried to sideline his agency, a move that angered Kadlec. The complaint says Bright told several members of Congress, including Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Chris Coons (D-Conn.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) “that, among other things, HHS leadership delayed and withheld money from BARDA allocated by Congress, which hampered diagnostics, drug and vaccine development.”

  • I get the distinct impression that Dr. Bright is yet another victim of the Administration’s bullying tactics. From the outside looking in it is (although also hilarious) preposterous to see one after the other expert removed or demoted – for speaking up for anything including the (obviously correct) need for quicker action on this pandemic and concerns about the president’s favorite item-of-the-day. This presidency is seeing the absolute greatest staff-turnover ever, and no-one dares or is allowed to question conflict due to family members connections (Kushner, Trumps own kids). This is a tyranny in the making. What a joke. The wors it however, that far too many Americans don’t (want to) see the demise that’s coming.

  • Bureaucrats like Rick Bright and Anthony Fauci do not treat patients; they worship numbers as if they were life itself. As a retired doc who treated many infection cases within my specialty, when a renowned clinician (one who treats people, not number distributions) like Didier Raoult reports a finding of 100 % of even a small group of infected patients getting better within 5 to 6 days using a drug that has been around for seven decades and used on hundreds of millions of people, with the alternative being possible death unless that available drug is used, I don’t need to wait for a placebo controlled, blind study to offer it to patients. I would provide informed consent about it’s listed potential side effects and its reported results from skilled clinicians. The bureaucrats can afford to backtrack and do some alternative bean counting, clinicians and their ill patients can’t. Bright’s “concerns” are phony.

    • If you really do have little use for evidence-based medicine, which depends upon data and not anecdote to evaluate the safety and efficacy of potential new therapies, perhaps your retirement was for the best.

  • Just another disgruntled Obama appointee.
    “Another draining of the swamp”
    Good for Trump and his team.

  • I cannot imagine where we would be if Rick Bright had not been pushing hard as this rolled out. I wonder what his replacement is up to?

  • This is the kind of heavy-handed, authoritarian intimidation the Chinese have been using to silence critics of their SARS-CoV-2 failures. I used to think we were better than that.

    • What’s misleading about the headline? Seems entirely consistent with the reporting.

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