in Houston, Texas
Rift at Texas’ cancer institute widens as more scientists defect
Monday, Oct 15, 2012, 11:44AM CST
By Steve Miller
cancer cells

If there are people involved, it’s going to get political. And if it’s government-run, ah, see the first point times 100.

The Associated Press writes of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, a taxpayer-funded program, after filing an open records request for letters of resignation from key advisors to the agency.

It found that seven advisors resigned last week, claiming “suspicion of favoritism” in doling out grants and warning that the program is becoming subject to abuse.

“You may find that it was not worth subverting the entire scientific enterprise — and my understanding was that the intended goal of CPRIT was to fund the best cancer research in Texas — on account of this ostensibly new, politically driven, commercialization-based mission,” wrote advisor Dr. Bryan Dynlacht in his resignation letter, cited by the AP.

Another letter, from Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in Cambridge, Mass., said the program “was tainted by baseless accusations by members of the CPRIT Oversight Committee that our review of a series of multi-investigator grants in the spring was influenced by regional or institutional bias and the consequent failure to advance these grants for funding consideration in that cycle.”

Records show the agency spent 83 percent of its funds on grants in 2011, or $50 million out of $60 million in spending. The share dropped in 2012, to 41 percent, with the agency doing out $42 million in grants out of $102 million.

The agency was accused earlier in the year of awarding a grant based on commercial potential – the grand Texas tradition of making a buck – rather than scientific merits.

Weeks before that, the chief scientific officer for the agency, Alfred Gilman, said he was asked to step down by the agency’s executive director.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was created by statewide voter approval in 2007, sold as a means of research and prevention and put on the ballot by the state legislature. The measure authorized the issuance of $300 million in bonds that would be paid by taxpayers.

As it moved through both chambers of the statehouse, there were several objections, including that of state Sen. Kevin Eltife, who said, “I cast a "no" vote on HJR 90 because while I support Senator [Jane] Nelson’s efforts to ’ fund cancer research, I prefer spending general revenue for this effort rather than borrowing money.”

Among those testifying for the bill was Lance Armstrong, the dubious king of bike racing. His Livestrong foundation received a grant from the state agency in 2010.

The recent controversy has prompted calls for reform. Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, told the Houston Chronicle he will file legislation to put more funding emphasis on prevention.

The board of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas includes comptroller Susan Combs and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of prostate cancer cells via the National Cancer Institute.

Wednesday, 12/19/2012 - 11:40PM

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