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Texas cancer agency names new chief scientist

CPRIT

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has found a chief scientific officer to replace Nobel laureate Al Gilman, who resigned in October in protest over the institute’s awarding of an unreviewed US$18-million grant.

The Austin-based institute’s new top scientist will be Margaret Kripke, a cancer immunologist who in 2007 retired as executive vice-president and chief academic officer of the huge University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. A news release from CPRIT notes that Kripke founded the department of immunology at MD Anderson and that until recently she served on a three-member panel that advises the president of the United States on the nation’s cancer programme. Kripke, who earned a PhD in immunology from the University of California, Berkeley, is an expert in the immunology of skin cancers. She’s also a big backer of women in science: the Legend award established by MD Anderson in 2008 and named after Kripke honours people who have helped women advance in cancer science and medicine.

“She’s a very good choice,” says Ed Benz, the president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. “She has good administrative experience and she’s certainly an accomplished scientist. People regard her highly.” (Benz, a Kripke Legend award winner, gave the $5,000 that came with it to his institute’s office of faculty development.)

Kripke, who  will take up her new role in January, will immediately face the task of rebuilding the institute’s reputation within the research community following Gilman’s departure from CPRIT and the controversy that has surrounded it. Last March, while approving the $18-million grant to MD Anderson without scientific review, the institute simultaneously shelved several grants that had already been approved by its peer reviewers.  (Those awards have since been funded.) Late last month, the agency revealed that a second grant, awarded in 2010 to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, was also funded without review. Those funds have been frozen until the appropriate reviews are conducted.

“If there is a person who can clean up CPRIT, it’s Margaret Kripke,” said a senior physician and scientist at MD Anderson who declined to be named. “She is all business. She is tough as nails. It will not be business as usual at CPRIT.”

In the news release, Kripke says that she is honoured to take the new position, adding:  “The opportunity created by CPRIT to advance cancer research, prevention and treatment and to put Texas at the forefront of these fields is unparalleled.”

 

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