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A strip of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malarial drug.

Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Rick Bright, one of the US’s leading vaccine scientists, says he was abruptly ousted from his post as the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, for sticking to science, and refusing to tout “unproven” coronavirus treatments.

“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,” Bright told the New York Times.

“Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics,” he said. 

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Rick Bright, one of the country’s top vaccine experts, says he was removed from his position in the federal government for refusing to endorse “unproven” coronavirus treatments.

“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,” Bright wrote in a statement to New York Times White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman.

Bright’s demotion from director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, to a smaller role at the National Institutes of Health was first reported on Tuesday by Stat. The career scientist had worked at BARDA since 2010, and was not a White House appointee. 

“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 said in his statement to the Times.

President Trump has been bullish about treating the novel coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, but scientists have been more cautious about promoting the drug’s use for this pandemic. Experts at the National Institutes of Health recently raised alarms about the potential harms of using the drug, which can be toxic when mixed with common antibiotics.

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“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” Bright said in his statement. “These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with COVID-19.”

Bright also called on the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services to “investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit.”

“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Bright said. “Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.”

BARDA is a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. HHS did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

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