Lawyers for ousted U.S. health official say he will file whistleblower complaint

Rick Bright, recently ousted director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, is seen in his official government handout portrait photo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services taken in Washington, U.S. in 2017. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for the ousted director of a U.S. agency responsible for the development of drugs to fight the COVID-19 pandemic said on Thursday he will file a whistleblower’s complaint with two government offices over his reassignment.

Rick Bright said on Wednesday he was replaced as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, because he resisted the Trump administration’s efforts to push hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as cures for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted the malaria drugs as a treatment for coronavirus though few studies suggest a possible benefit.

“In our filing we will make clear that Dr. Bright was sidelined for one reason only -- because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly,” his lawyers said in a statement.

His lawyers said they will file the complaint with the Office of Special Counsel and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General.

Bright hopes he will be reinstated in his post at BARDA once the facts of the case become known, his lawyers said.

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent U.S. government agency, investigates and can prosecute abuses against federal employees.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Tom Brown