The Texas legislature has left grant money for the state’s conflict-hobbled cancer institute out of the state’s preliminary budget plans.
A joint legislative committee recommended that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), based in Austin, should receive only US$5 million a year, down from nearly $300 million a year, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Early budgets often differ substantially from final budgets. Nonetheless, the cancer agency’s allotment is a clear sign of the lawmakers’ displeasure. CPRIT was voted into existence by a large majority of Texas voters in 2007, charged with funding research and education to stop cancer.
But 2012 was a bumpy year. The chief scientific officer, along with many of the agency’s high-profile grant reviewers, resigned in protest, saying that independent peer review had been disrespected. Chief among these concerns was an $18-million grant awarded to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center without scientific peer review. Subsequently, CPRIT announced that another $11-million grant had been awarded to a biotechnology company without peer review, and the district attorney began a criminal investigation, in part because of ties between a political campaign contributor and recipients of poorly reviewed grants.
Since then, both CPRIT’s chief commercial officer and executive director have resigned. A prominent cancer biologist, Margaret Kripke, left retirement to become the agency’s new chief scientific officer.
CPRIT’s new executive director, Wayne Roberts, told the Chronicle that CPRIT would work over the next few months to assure the legislature that CPRIT could allocate money appropriately.