CPRIT leadership is responding to the Houston Chronicle’s criticism in the Editorial of Nov.1st, 2012. We appreciate their answer and do support the current leadership.  We will also wait to see how they will meet the need to address minority disparities.  We support the leadership position and wait to see what will result from their efforts to reorganize.

I appreciate the Houston Chronicle's affirmation in its Nov. 1 editorial of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas' core mission and goals, and the need to continue improving the agency's administration and effectiveness ("Fighting for life; Our state's anti-cancer agency needs aggressive treatment: Its leaders should resign," Page B8). As executive director of CPRIT, I have a solemn responsibility to uphold the original statute by ensuring taxpayer money is being used only for research, development and prevention projects that will have the strongest impact on defeating cancer.
The Chronicle makes a sound case for a deliberative process and for avoiding any precipitous actions that would defeat CPRIT's mission. At the same time, the newspaper calls for an immediate resignation and across-the-board replacement of CPRIT's leadership. Such an "off-with-their-heads" approach cuts against and undermines the notion of careful consideration and deliberation. As the editorial says, the subject matter is too important for political solutions.
Part of the mandate to CPRIT, in the constitutional amendment approved by an overwhelming majority of voters five years ago, is to fund research and development (R&D) of groundbreaking discoveries in cancer drugs, devices and diagnostics. The amendment specifically calls on CPRIT "to develop therapies, protocols, medical pharmaceuticals or procedures for the cure or substantial mitigation of all types of cancer." That language directly translates into activities that are carried out in the commercial arena.
While research is vitally important in making the discoveries, developing those discoveries for use by cancer patients is equally important if not more so. Without the "D" in "R&D," many amazing scientific discoveries will sit in a laboratory. That does not help cancer patients.
The disagreement that has fueled the Chronicle's coverage is one between basic science labs, well funded by the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute, and activities that are focused on treating patients - such as clinical trials and drug development. Tension of this type is healthy and this is exactly where Texas stands to make a difference - getting lifesaving treatments to cancer patients faster, cheaper and more effectively. I am especially concerned when a former CPRIT basic science peer review chair refers to the process of developing discoveries to make them available to cancer patients as "hucksterism." This type of thinking and lack of vision is perhaps one of the reasons why it is so difficult to get new cancer drugs into practice. CPRIT's mission isn't just to foot the bills for research, but to push that research out of the labs and into clinical trials and into the hands of doctors and patients as safely and quickly as possible.
I was surprised that the editorial questioned my request that four company applications, currently under peer review, undergo additional scrutiny by our scientific reviewers - especially without calling the institute for reaction. Rather than "a major intrusion into scientific review," it is my responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely. New information on all four companies was received after the scientific reviewers had given their scores. The request for re-evaluation was to make sure that all the reviewers, science and commercial, had access to the same information to evaluate the projects fairly. That's the least that companies, many with lifesaving projects, can expect - a fair process.
The vetting of commercial projects is different than that of scientific projects. Scientific reviewers many times are not familiar with this type of back-and-forth review because of differences in the culture of academic peer review and business investment. Academic reviewers are used to proposals structured like NIH grant proposals, in which all data are disclosed up front, rather than as a due diligence process geared toward investment. All four of these companies are still undergoing the peer review process.
The public appointees that make up CPRIT's Oversight Committee volunteer enormous amounts of their time. Many have been touched by cancer first hand. They are all committed to public service and receive no personal gain for their work. Any attempt to attribute other motives to Oversight Committee members is completely unfounded. Charles Tate is appointed by the board as the chairman of the Economic Development and Commercialization Subcommittee. Tate, one of the longest serving board members and previously inaccurately identified as a venture capitalist by the Chronicle, is tireless and selfless in the fight against cancer. That same altruistic motivation holds true for Jimmy Mansour, chairman of the Oversight Committee. Mansour was instrumental in the establishment of the institute and is driven by a sincere passion to serve, as are all of the members.
It is important that these citizen Oversight Committee members represent the people of Texas. We are investing billions of dollars and the self interests of a science-oriented board would invite conflict. The temptation would be too great to substitute its judgment for that of the peer reviewers. The Legislature was very careful in writing this legislation. It ensures that the science and business value of grants are reviewed and recommended by experts in the field of cancer. The Oversight Committee is required to accept those recommendations or overturn them with a supermajority vote. To date, every grant recommended by the peer reviewers and brought before the Oversight Committee has been funded.
The editorial goes on to state that "(Albert) Gilman resigned over the rushed approval (since revoked) of an $18 million 'commercialization' grant … " Again this is not accurate. Gilman's own resignation letter of May 8 to me states: "The purpose of this letter is to indicate my intention to resign from CPRIT, effective (with your permission) on October 12, 2012. At that time I will have worked for CPRIT for over three years - I believe longer than originally anticipated." CPRIT employees have always committed themselves to the cause of curing cancer. All left other jobs to come to the institute because of their hearts. Many are cancer survivors themselves. They realize what one drug, one device or one diagnostic can do. They know the importance of getting these products into practice. And most importantly, they know that each dollar CPRIT invests, and each minute of CPRIT's 10 years we expend, means lives saved. Everyone associated with CPRIT strives daily to do the right thing.
I am honored to work with both the Oversight Committee and the staff at CPRIT. They give their blood, sweat and tears to a mission of hope for millions of Texans. We all serve with passion. I've seen that passion before, serving for many years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most recently as the agency's chief operating officer. I also spent time in Iraq in early 2008, a duty for which I volunteered, leading a team to improve health and prevent cholera in the province that includes the city of Tikrit - all in the pursuit of having a positive impact on people's lives.
The teams I have had the privilege to lead, both in this country and in Iraq, truly fall into the category of heroes. The Oversight Committee, employees of CPRIT, cancer patients, cancer survivors and their families are the true heroes in this story.
Because I take this responsibility and recent criticisms of the institute very seriously, my top priority has been to address the concerns and continue to move CPRIT forward. I look forward to working with the CPRIT Oversight Committee, state leaders, the Legislature, academic and nonacademic institutions and the private medical community to consider and reach consensus on the best course to maximize the effectiveness of CPRIT.

Gimson is executive director of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.