The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced yesterday that it will add scientific reviewers to those revisiting a controversial, $18 million grant.
The technology “incubator” grant, which directed $18 million to the Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS) at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has aroused a firestorm of controversy. The 6.5 page proposal was speedily approved in March by CPRIT’s Commercialization Review Council, without input from the institute’s scientific peer reviewers. At the same time, $39 million of research grants recommended for funding by CPRIT’s scientific peer reviewers were not funded. The principal investigator on the incubator grant is Lynda Chin, the chief scientist at IACS and the wife of MD Anderson president Ronald DePinho.
Last week, after DePinho wrote to CPRIT offering to have the grant reassessed, CPRIT said its commercial reviewers would re-review it. Yesterday, CPRIT executive director William Gimson announced that scientific review of the grant would be included in that process.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Gimson said in an interview with Nature today. “At the time [the incubator grant process was launched] we felt the incubator would have a sufficient review under the Commercialization Review Council.” Given the subsequent controversy, he added “We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard. So we are willing to come back and say: `If these questions have been raised, let’s have a scientific and a commercial review.'”
Gimson said that a single, merged panel of 12 to 16 reviewers will be constituted, half selected by the chair of CPRIT’s Scientific Review Council, and half by the chair of the Commercialization Review Council. They will be likely to re-review the MD Anderson grant in September or October, after a revised Request for Applications is released this summer.
Here is the full text of the statement that Gimson released yesterday, which also says that CPRIT is convening a “future directions” working group to recommend how to shape its prevention, research and commercialization agendas going forward:
The commercialization review of MD Anderson’s Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS) portion of the Houston Area Incubator proposal followed the policies and procedures approved by our Oversight Committee. However, last week MD Anderson offered to resubmit the IACS portion of the Houston Area Incubator proposal for additional review, and CPRIT has accepted that offer. The re-review of the IACS proposal will entail a joint scientific and commercialization review.
Any changes to CPRIT’s incubator review policy will be applicable to all incubator applications approved by CPRIT. For this reason, amendments to the incubator RFA guidelines will be brought before CPRIT’s Oversight Committee in July.
Additionally, CPRIT is commissioning a statewide workgroup to review and make recommendations for the future directions of its prevention, research and commercialization programs. For more information on this workgroup and steps CPRIT is taking to ensure continued quality and transparency in all its operations, please visit http://www.cprit.state.tx.us/about-cprit/future-directions-workgroup/ .