Posted: Dec 19, 2012 3:06 PM
Updated: Dec 19, 2012 3:07 PM
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gov. Rick Perry asked the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas on Wednesday to stop awarding grants until concerns about the beleaguered agency are resolved.
The institute controls the nation's second-largest pot of cancer research dollars, behind the federal National Institutes of Health.
It was founded in 2009 with an unprecedented $3 billion in state money and promises of cancer breakthroughs. But a criminal investigation, widespread rebuke from scientists and the resignations of agency officials amid suggestions of politics and personal profit have come faster than medical discoveries.
"The mission of defeating cancer is too important to be derailed by inadequate processes and a lack of oversight," Perry said in a letter to the cancer agency's oversight committee. He added, "It is important that we restore the confidence of the Texas taxpayers who approved this important initiative before new funds are dispersed."
The letter also was signed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus. All three called for the oversight panel to cooperate with current reviews, implement recommended changes, enact reforms and fill key positions.
Oversight committee Chairman Jimmy Mansour and Vice Chairman Joseph Bailes quickly embraced the request.
"These issues need to be resolved to restore public confidence in CPRIT," they said in a joint statement.
The letter comes a week after the agency's executive director offered his resignation and the state's chief public corruption prosecutor announced an investigation into the beleaguered agency. The federal National Cancer Institute which has conferred on CPRIT the prominent status of being an approved funding entity also said last week that it was evaluating "recent events" at the state agency.
The reviews began after CPRIT disclosed that an $11 million grant to a private company had bypassed review.
The award to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, a biomedical startup, marked the second time this year that a lucrative taxpayer-funded grant authorized by CPRIT instigated backlash and raised questions about oversight. The first involved the $20 million grant to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that CPRIT's former chief science officer, Nobel laureate Dr. Alfred Gilman, described as a thin proposal that should have first been scrutinized by an outside panel of scientific peer-reviewers, even though none was required under the agency's rules.
Dozens of the nation's top scientists agreed. They resigned en masse from the agency's peer-review panels along with Gilman. Some accused the agency of "hucksterism" and charting a politically-driven path that was putting commercial product-development above science