The head of a government agency combating the coronavirus pandemic alleged Wednesday that he was ousted for opposing politically connected efforts to promote a malaria drug that President Trump touted without proof as a remedy for COVID-19, the AP reports. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said in a statement that he was summarily removed from his job on Tuesday and reassigned to a lesser role. His lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, called it "retaliation plain and simple." Controversy has swirled around the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine since Trump started promoting it from the podium in the White House briefing room.
BARDA, the agency that Bright formerly headed, is a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services created to counter threats from bioterrorism and infectious diseases. It has recently been trying to jump-start work on a vaccine for the coronavirus. "I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science—not politics or cronyism—has to lead the way," said Bright, who has a doctoral degree in immunology. "Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections." There was no immediate response from HHS. (Hydroxychloroquine has fallen out of favor with other experts, too.)