Concerns raised over Abbott’s CPRIT ties
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.