NCI sta­tus a seal of ap­proval


Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - A

CPRIT to con­tinue run­ning the na­tion’s sec­ond­largest pot of can­cer re­search dol­lars, Khan said. But jeop­ar­diz­ing that sta­tus — and es­pe­cially los­ing it — would be a blow to CPRIT’s rep­u­ta­tion, which al­ready has been bat­tered by sweep­ing res­ig­na­tions, in­ter­nal ac­cu­sa­tions of pol­i­tics trump­ing sci­ence and now a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Also Fri­day, CPRIT posted no­tice of a spe­cial meet­ing of its over­sight com­mit­tee for next Fri­day to con­sider the per­for­mance of its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Bill Gim­son. He had submitted his res­ig­na­tion let­ter Tues­day but of­fered to stay on through Jan­uary.

A re­cent in­ter­nal au­dit at CPRIT dis­cov­ered that an $11 mil­lion fund­ing re­quest from Dal­las-based Pelo­ton Ther­a­peu­tics was ap­proved with­out the agency ever scru­ti­niz­ing the pro­posal’s mer­its. The rev­e­la­tion came only months af­ter two No­bel lau­re­ates and other top sci­en­tists left the agency in protest over a $20 mil­lion grant that some claimed was rushed to ap­proval with­out a proper peer re­view.

Gim­son has de­scribed Pelo­ton’s im­proper fund­ing as an hon­est mis­take and said no one as­so­ci­ated with CPRIT stood to profit from the com­pany’s award.

Though CPRIT is funded by tax­pay­ers, donors to can­cer non­prof­its might look to a Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute des­ig­na­tion for as­sur­ance that their money is in good hands.

“It says, ‘If I’m do­nat­ing money to this agency, if NCI is ap­prov­ing them, that means NCI says it’s han­dling its money well,’ ” Khan said.

Khan added that CPRIT’s in­clu­sion on the list does not mean all of its fund­ing mech­a­nisms are NCI-ap­proved.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute’s web­site, se­lec­tion by the in­sti­tute pro­vides recog­ni­tion of re­search ex­cel­lence and of out­stand­ing lead­er­ship.

There is no fund­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute and CPRIT, but Texas has sev­eral can­cer cen­ters that re­ceive Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute fund­ing.

An en­tire page of CPRIT’s web­site is de­voted to boast­ing about its Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute des­ig­na­tion. The agency says the sta­tus is im­por­tant be­cause it means can­cer cen­ters in Texas seek­ing Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute des­ig­na­tion — to re­as­sure pa­tients or bol­ster re­cruit­ment — can in­clude CPRIT re­search dol­lars in their cal­cu­la­tions to main­tain lev­els needed to be in­sti­tute-ap­proved.

“This en­hances Texas’ abil­ity to lever­age ad­di­tional fed­eral fund­ing for can­cer re­search and raises Texas’ pro­file as a cen­ter for can­cer re­search,” the web­site says.

Pros­e­cu­tors have not made any spe­cific crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions. Con­duct­ing sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions into CPRIT are the Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and the Travis County district at­tor­ney’s pub­lic in­tegrity unit, which in­ves­ti­gates crim­i­nal mis­con­duct within state government.

In an­other blow, Hill+Knowl­ton Strate­gies this week ended its con­sult­ing re­la­tion­ship with the trou­bled state agency.

Ellen Read, the agency’s pub­lic spokes­woman, said the out­side firm had an 18-month con­tract for $375,000 to help with strat­egy, pub­lic re­la­tions and im­age. The firm signed on be­fore the con­tro­versy be­came pub­lic and had com­pleted al­most 10 months of the con­tract when it ended its ser­vices.

Mark McKin­non, a se­nior ad­viser at the con­sult­ing firm, said in a let­ter that “the on­go­ing is­sues and chal­lenges that have con­fronted the or­ga­ni­za­tion over re­cent months have greatly ex­ceeded the scope of work out­lined by the ini­tial con­tract.”

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