Thursday, April 23, 2020
To BARDA with Love
Yesterday we were confronted with the news that Rick Bright, the director, Biomedical Advanced Research Authority (BARDA) and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response had been fired. He claims this was in retaliation for his insistence that all potential diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for coronavirus infection undergo rigorous scientific testing before they are widely used – including, especially, hydroxychloroquine. This stance is no different from mine, from any reasonable scientist’s, nor from Dr. Fauci’s. In fact, a recent, large (but retrospective) VA study showed that hydroxychloroquine is more dangerous to seriously ill coronavirus infected patients than placebo – vindicating our skeptical view of the drug. While several, large prospective trials of the drug are still underway, it is now more than reasonable to maintain a healthy scientific skepticism when thinking about using this and related compounds for prevention or therapy of covid-19. His firing, if based on his scientifically rigorous approach to testing, is nothing less than a national disgrace.
BARDA, as an agency, has been a constant light in a dark cave of antibacterial research and development for almost the last decade. Without funding and support from BARDA, our meager pipeline of antibacterial drugs would be virtually non-existent today. BARDA evolved from being restricted to only funding those projects that could result in countermeasures for bioweapons and having to avoid funding phase 3 trials to being a key funder in the research and development of antibiotics for the treatment of resistant infection in all phases of discovery and development. And thank goodness for that.
I don’t know Rick Bright well, although we have spoken on occasion. Based on his direction of BARDA, though, it is clear that he has a clear-eyed understanding of the issues facing us in terms of antibiotic resistance and our need for new therapies in the face of a broken marketplace. BARDA’s recent agreement with Paratek is proof of this. Rick has been an aggressive leader of BARDA’s involvement in the search for diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines targeting covid-19. Once again, it’s hard to imagine how companies could have accelerated the testing of many of these various projects without support from BARDA.
I want to now turn to those scientists, contract experts, lawyers and everyone else working at BARDA. We need you. We need you to keep BARDA alive and well. This administration will pass into the depths of history – hopefully sooner rather than later. What you have done and are doing at BARDA will provide a living legacy of valuable products for decades to come. When I arrived at Wyeth as a naïve academic physician-scientist, one of the first things I learned was the importance of dealing with failure. Since almost all projects initiated in the laboratories of the pharmaceutical industry are doomed to failure, it became important to show scientists how to deal with these constant blows. I counseled them to focus on the science. I told them to keep good records, write papers and put them aside until such time as they could be published. We all need everyone at BARDA to keep their focus. This is too important a moment to allow what is happening to Dr. Bright to distract you from your goal of keeping the rest of us safe. We need you to provide us with the wherewithal to get through covid-19 – to say nothing about the importance of improving our antibiotic pipeline.
Now I am going to ask all of you out there to write your representatives insisting that the treatment of Rick Bright get the investigation that is clearly warranted. We cannot let this stand – at this time, in this moment – this cannot stand.