Target Health Blog

Dr. Rick A. Bright

January 19, 2021

History of Medicine

Former BARDA Director, Dr. Rick A. Bright Public Domain  

Rick Arthur Bright is an American immunologist, vaccine researcher, public health official, and whistleblower. He was the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) from 2016 to 2020. In May 2020, he filed a whistleblower complaint, alleging that the Trump administration ignored his early warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic and illegally retaliated against him by ousting him from his role, and demoting him to a position at the National Institutes of Health. On October 6, 2020, Bright resigned from the government, and on November 9 he was named a member of President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisory board.

Bright was born and raised in Hutchinson, Kansas. Following two years at the University of Kansas, he received a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in biology (medical technology) and physical science (chemistry) from Auburn University-Montgomery. In 2002, Bright earned a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis (virology) from the Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. His dissertation was titled Studies on pathogenicity and control of H5N1 influenza A viruses in mice. Bright completed the Advanced Course in Vaccinology (ADVAC) from the Fondation M?rieux and University of Geneva in Annecy, France.

From 1990 to 1992, Bright worked as a product manager in the Research & Development Department of Osborn Laboratories in Olathe, Kansas. From 1994 to 1995, he was a research assistant in the Flow Cytometry Department of the Alabama Reference Lab in Montgomery, Alabama. From 1997 to 2000, Bright worked at the Emory University Department of Microbiology and Immunology and in the Vaccine Research Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia. From 1998 to 2002, Bright worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, in the Influenza Branch, Immunology and Viral Pathogenesis Section, where he studied Influenza A virus subtype H5N1. From 2002 to 2003, Bright shifted to working at the pharmaceutical company, Altea Therapeutics (a subsidiary of Nitto Denko) in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was a senior research scientist in their Vaccine and Immunology Programs.

In 2003, Bright rejoined the CDC as an immunologist/virologist in their Disease Control and Prevention, Influenza Division, Strain Surveillance Branch in Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked on their influenza antiviral drug program and focused on avian influenza. He held that position until 2006.

From 2006 to 2008, Bright returned to working in the private sector of the biotechnology industry at Novavax in Maryland, where he was vice president of their global influenza programs as well as of their vaccine research and development. For his work there, he was an adviser to the WHO and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and became the recipient of the prestigious Charles C. Shepard Science Award for Scientific Excellence, jointly awarded by the CDC and the WHO. During that time, he also participated in World Health Organization (WHO) committees on vaccine development and pandemic preparedness. In February 2008, Bright worked at the non-profit PATH on a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant funded project as the director in vaccine manufacturing capacity building in Viet Nam. He was also the scientific director of the influenza vaccine project as well as the global vaccine development program, a position he held until October 2010.

In 2010, Bright joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) governmental agency Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). He was the program lead of BARDA International Programs, then in June 2011 became acting chief of the influenza antiviral drug advanced development program, a position he held until December 2011. From June 2011 to December 2015, he was both deputy director and acting director of BARDA's Influenza and Emerging Diseases Division, eventually serving as director of the division from December 2014 to November 2016. From February 2016 to November 2016, he was an incident commander in the ASPR/BARDA Zika Response.

On November 15, 2016, President Obama appointed Bright to the position of director of BARDA. Bright succeeded founding director Robin Robinson. In addition to his role as director of BARDA, Bright was also deputy assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). On April 20, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Bright was reassigned to the National Institutes of Health.

In written testimony at a May 14, 2020 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee (issued the previous day), Bright warned that “the darkest winter in modern history“ could come in 2020 if the country failed to undertake a vigorous response to fight the virus: “Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.“ Bright told the subcommittee that “Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost“ as a result of the administration's failure to heed his earlier warnings.

On October 6, 2020, Bright resigned from the government. In an addendum to his whistleblower complaint, Bright stated that, following his demotion, he had been given “no meaningful work“ since September 4; that NIH officials had rejected his proposals for a national COVID-19 testing strategy “because of political considerations“; and that officials had ignored his request that he join the $10 billion Operation Warp Speed initiative to develop a COVID-19 vaccination

On November 9, 2020 President-elect Joe Biden named Bright to be one of the 13 members of his coronavirus task force.

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