"Nine members of the agency’s 11-person oversight committee are political appointees, so politically connected people will inevitably seek to use advantage in tapping the fund. It’s up to top state leaders to make sure scientific merit — not connections — is the prevailing criterion for how public money is handed out."
Editorial: Answers needed from CPRIT
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It’s a question that must be asked and answered directly at a meeting Wednesday of the oversight committee of Texas’ cancer-fighting agency. The subject is an $11 million grant to a Dallas biotechnology company whose application was never subject to review by business or science experts.
The lapse has been blamed on the now-resigned chief commercialization officer of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. That official, Jerald “Jerry” Cobbs, “improperly” placed the award to Peloton Therapeutics on the oversight committee’s agenda in 2010, CPRIT disclosed last week.
Questions remain, however, beginning with the role played by CPRIT executive director Bill Gimson. Why hadn’t Gimson ensured that the Peloton grant went up for approval with the required prior review and recommendation? Did the prominence of Peloton officials and financial backers — including UT Southwestern Medical Center department chairs and Nobel Prize winners — have any bearing? How about the financial interest of Dallas philanthropist Peter O’Donnell, a major contributor to Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst?
The answers are important to restoring confidence in the 5-year-old agency, and we’re glad key officials are on the case. Two GOP lawmakers who authored legislation to create CPRIT — Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland — want a written explanation of how the oversight happened and how the agency can prevent a repeat.
They said — and this newspaper agrees — that the work of this unprecedented, voter-approved, $3 billion cancer research fund is too important to be compromised by a loss of public trust. Hints of favoritism and influence-peddling must be addressed.
The departure of CPRIT’s commercialization officer follows the resignation of its chief scientific officer, Nobel laureate Alfred Gilman, and dozens of out-of-state science reviewers. Gilman quit to protest initial approval of a $20 million “incubator” project in Houston that hadn’t been subject to scientific review.
If there’s positive news in all this, it’s that the agency self-reported the flawed Peloton review process in a compliance audit of commercialization awards it had made. The post of compliance officer was created last spring after the furor kicked up by Gilman.
Further, CPRIT said last week that it is tightening up its approval process, and each grant request submitted to the oversight committee will now have detailed documentation of review.
Whether that’s good enough remains to be seen. A state auditor’s report is due in January on CPRIT’s grant-making, and Nelson vows to file legislation to strengthen oversight on the agency.
The magnets for controversy are CPRIT’s 11 commercialization awards, a fraction of the overall 427 grants made over three years. Most are for research and prevention projects.
Nine members of the agency’s 11-person oversight committee are political appointees, so politically connected people will inevitably seek to use advantage in tapping the fund. It’s up to top state leaders to make sure scientific merit — not connections — is the prevailing criterion for how public money is handed out.
DO NOT KILL THE MESSENGER, NONE OF THIS INVOLVES THE CRBCM
WE JUST NEED TO CLARIFY WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST FOR OUR BLOG VISITORS
WE PLAN TO SUBMIT 6 REPORTS TOTAL TO CPRIT
WE EXPECT 6 NEGATIVE RESPONSE OVER THE COMING YEAR
WE WILL HAVE 6 NEGATIVE "REVIEWS" TO REVIEW FOR THE COMPLETION ON OUR PUBLICATION ON THE "CPRIT EXPERIENCE". THE FIGHT IS ON.