(p. A17) 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.
. . .
Emory had licensed molnupiravir to Ridgeback, which in April 2020 requested $100 million from the government to fast-track studies in humans. Mr. Bright says Trump officials ordered Barda officials “to fund the Ridgeback proposal as quickly as possible, and preferably within 24 hours.” But he said “Ridgeback had not followed the proper procedure for receiving BARDA funding.” Barda declined the request, and Ridgeback collaborated with Merck, which put its own capital at risk.
After Mr. Bright’s reassignment, Barda funding for trials, manufacturing and advance purchases of monoclonal antibodies proved critical in accelerating their development. Molnupiravir would likely have been available much sooner had Barda provided funding as Trump officials urged last spring.
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(Note: ellipsis, an bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 10, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)