The largest state-run cancer
research center, The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas
(CPRIT), is fighting for its reputation following a string of bad
press relating to its grant review procedures. The institute, which
is in charge of $3 billion dollars worth of taxpayer money, has
been hit by numerous scandals and accusations that it is
putting politics ahead of science. ;
Houston Chronicle ;investigation into CPRIT has
revealed several instances where the proper grant proposal review
procedure was not followed and certain commercial projects where
favored without scientific review.
Back in June, the Chronicle revealed the
dubious review process that led to a $20 million grant being
awarded to the M.D Institute for Applied Cancer Science in
conjunction with Rice University. Dr. Lynda Chin, the scientific
director of the M.D Anderson Institute, submitted a plan in early
March for what would be CPRIT’s largest awarding grant to date.
Jerry Cobbs, CRIT’s senior staff member overseeing
commercialization grants, questioned the viability of Chin’s
project suggesting it was not yet “ready” and should be
Local reported that the proposal was just 8 pages long.
Dr. Chin, however, was awarded the grant by the end of the month
supposedly thanks to the work of M.D Anderson associate and member
of the CPRIT oversight committee Charles Tate.
Tate pushed the committee to enact rules that would enable
so-called “incubators,” organizations within CPRIT that nurture
small companies through the drug development process, to dole out
grant money without the project-by-project review usually
undertaken by the scientific and commercialization committees
within CPRIT. Further to this Tate encouraged the M.D Institute to
join with a Rice University commercial grant proposal in order for
it to circumvent scientific review by the CPRIT panel, then headed
by Nobel Laureate Dr. Alfred Gilman.
The Chronicle ;released
the details of more grant-based mishaps last week ;as they
revealed that the agency approved an $11 million grant in 2010 with
no scientific or commercial review whatsoever. The grant was
awarded to Peloton Therapeutics after commercialization officer at
the time, Jerry Cobbs, improperly included the proposal on a list
of awards submitted to the oversight committee, despite it not
being subject to the necessary review committees. Cobbs has since
resigned for undisclosed reasons.
CPRIT was set up in 2007 following overwhelming approval as a
ballot measure. Bill Gimson, the institute’s director, issued a
statement regarding its continuing scandal. “CPRIT must have the
trust of our fellow Texans that we are not only doing great work,
but that we are also doing everything the right way.”