Con­cerns raised over Ab­bott’s CPRIT ties

CPRIT

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Con­tin­ued from A Con­tact Lay­lan Copelin at 445-3617.

mil­lion award to a pri­vate com­pany was never re­viewed. It was the sec­ond time this year that a lu­cra­tive tax­payer­funded grant by the can­cer agency in­sti­gated a back­lash and raised ques­tions about over­sight.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I have also been placed in a sit­u­a­tion where I feel I can no longer be ef­fec­tive,” Gim­son wrote.

The Travis County in­ves­ti­ga­tion is the sec­ond an­nounced Tues­day. Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Ab­bott, who serves as an ex-of­fi­cio mem­ber on the agency’s board, also is in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Gregg Cox, the head of the Pub­lic In­tegrity Unit in the Travis County pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice, said his of­fice has com­mu­ni­cated with the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

“But we will be con­duct­ing our own in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Cox said.

Ques­tions arose sev­eral months ago when the agency’s chief sci­ence of­fice and sev­eral outof-state sci­en­tists who re­view grant ap­pli­ca­tions an­nounced their res­ig­na­tions be­cause a grant for a Hous­ton in­cu­ba­tor didn’t get a sci­en­tific re­view. Then last month it was dis­cov­ered that the agency had awarded an $11 mil­lion grant to a Dal­las-based biotech firm, Pelo­ton Ther­a­peu­tics, with­out any re­view at all.

The agency’s com­mer­cial­iza­tion di­rec­tor, Jerry Cobb, left the agency.

Last week, Gim­son apol­o­gized for the mis­takes and promised that steps had been taken to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again.

“We are go­ing to take a look at all the var­i­ous al­le­ga­tions,” Cox said.

Glenn Smith, di­rec­tor of the pro­gres­sive Progress Texas PAC, said he doesn’t trust Ab­bott to con­duct an im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the agency.

“Greg Ab­bott is on CPRIT’s over­sight com­mit­tee,” he said. “The scan­dal al­ready hap­pened on his watch. So, he’s go­ing to in­ves­ti­gate him­self? No one in Texas will be­lieve that.”

Cathy Bon­ner, a former aide to the late Gov. Ann Richards who in 2006 be­gan the cam­paign for the re­search fund­ing, is­sued a state­ment say­ing she, too, ques­tioned the ob­jec­tiv­ity of the over­sight board and of the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But she went fur­ther, call­ing for an im­me­di­ate sus­pen­sion of the grants un­til an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­plete.

“As a can­cer sur­vivor, I speak for all the fam­i­lies in Texas touched by th­ese hor­ri­ble dis­eases when I say we are out­raged at the ap­par­ent mis­use of re­search funds at CPRIT,” Bon­ner said. “The ul­ti­mate in­sult is to ask the same peo­ple that have been charged with over­see­ing th­ese valu­able re­search funds to in­ves­ti­gate them­selves.”

In 2007, vot­ers ap­proved $3 bil­lion in bonds to fund a 10-year pro­gram look­ing for cures for can­cer.

The agency’s prob­lems are be­com­ing pub­lic just as the Leg­is­la­ture is con­ven­ing. Law­mak­ers al­ready are plan­ning changes that they hope will re­store the pub­lic’s trust in the pro­gram.

Only the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health doles out more can­cer re­search dol­lars than the Texas can­cer agency, which has been awarded more than $700 mil­lion so far. The agency’s former chief sci­ence of­fi­cer, No­bel lau­re­ate Al­fred Gil­man, re­signed ear­lier this year over a sep­a­rate $20 mil­lion award that Gil­man claimed re­ceived a thin re­view. That led some of the na­tion’s top sci­en­tists to ac­cuse the agency of chart­ing a po­lit­i­cally driven path.

Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion from the As­so­ci­ated Press.

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