Alyssia Finley’s Wall Street Journal column explores a mystery. What has delayed the release of Merck’s anti-COVID drug, molnupiravir? Was it the Trump Administration or was it a “whistleblower”?\
When Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced on Oct. 1 that their new antiviral pill reduced Covid hospitalizations by roughly half, some in the media blamed Donald Trump. An Axios headline: “Before Merck backed COVID antiviral, Trump admin turned it down.” In fact, Trump officials pushed for government funding to accelerate the development of the drug, molnupiravir. They were opposed by a career official, Rick Bright, whom Democrats praised as a “whistleblower.”
Mr. Bright joined the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in 2010 and became Barda’s director in 2016. The authority, part of the Health and Human Services Department, is charged with preparing for and responding to public-health threats. After Mr. Bright repeatedly clashed with HHS officials, he was reassigned in April 2020 to a lower-level job at the National Institutes of Health. Mr. Bright then filed a complaint accusing Trump officials of pressuring him to fast-track unsafe drugs and award contracts “based on political connections and cronyism.”
He claimed that even before the pandemic, they were inappropriately pressing Barda to fund clinical studies of molnupiravir, which had shown promise against other viruses in lab experiments at Emory University. Mr. Bright’s complaint alleged that George Painter, CEO of Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory, and Trump HHS official Robert Kadlec had urged Barda in November 2019 to “invest millions of dollars into their ‘miracle cure.’ ” It noted that “similar experimental drugs in this class had been shown to cause reproductive toxicity in animals, and offspring from treated animals had been born without teeth and without parts of their skulls.” But similar effects hadn’t occurred with molnupiravir. Mr. Bright rejected the Emory funding request; the decision “clearly frustrated Dr. Kadlec and further strained their relationship,” according to the complaint.
I am unable to adjudicate it.