Texas Cancer-Fighting Agency at Crossroads
PHOTO: The state House Appropriations Committe is expected to discuss the future of the troubled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
December 20, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas - The House committee that controls state spending meets today to consider the future of the troubled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (C-PRIT). After voters approved its creation in 2007, C-PRIT attracted top scientific talent with its promise of becoming a world leader in the fight against cancer. But this year, some of that talent fled after becoming disillusioned.
The institute's mission and resources were hijacked by political cronyism, according to Phillip Martin, political director with Progress Texas, a government watchdog group. He says science has taken a back seat to commercial interests.
"It's why the chief scientific officer has resigned. Why two Nobel laureates have left. The executive director has resigned. They thought they were coming to do science and research, when it turns out they were approving proposals for businesses that are tied to Gov. Perry."
Eight scientists who resigned said the institute awarded project grants without proper review. The institute is being investigated in the wake of media reports that companies belonging to Republican donors received millions in C-PRIT awards. While admitting to some grant-making errors, institute officials deny that political favoritism was in play.
Martin hopes the legislature will demand greater transparency and accountability when it comes to how the institute is managed, and which projects it chooses to support.
"If we can change the culture of leadership, and have better safeguards in how the money is being spent, then I think we can return the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas to where it belongs. Which is [to be] a leader in the nation in helping fight the battle against cancer."
So far, the institute has awarded more than $800 million in grants - with two-thirds of that dedicated to cancer research. Some, including Gov. Perry, would like to shift the focus more toward the marketing of new therapies, but critics fear increased commercialization would weaken C-PRIT's research potential and open the door to corruption.