NCI status a seal of approval
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.”