Audit blasts Texas cancer agency over transparency

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm •  Published: January 28, 2013
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"The report paints a picture of an agency in the early stages of its development," interim executive director Wayne Roberts told Keel in a letter.

CPRIT's problems started in May with the departure of Dr. Alfred Gilman, the former chief scientific officer and a Nobel laureate. Gilman had clashed with executive director Bill Gimson over agency priorities, accusing him of letting politics trump science. Dozens of scientific peer reviewers loyal to Gilman also severed ties with the agency.

Yet the turmoil didn't peak until November, when CPRIT revealed that an $11 million award to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, a private biomedical startup, was approved even though Peloton's proposal had entirely bypassed review two years earlier. Chief Commercialization Officer Jerry Cobbs resigned as problems with the Peloton grant surfaced, and Gimson stepped down in December.

Public corruption officers in Travis County and the Texas attorney general's office launched separate investigations. No one has been accused of wrongdoing.

CPRIT was a darling of the scientific community and some of the nation's biggest advocacy groups, including the American Cancer Society, after launching in 2009 as an unprecedented cancer-fighting effort on the state level. The agency oversees the nation's second-largest pot of cancer research dollars, next to only the federal National Institutes of Health.

That money is now frozen, with CPRIT under a moratorium until confidence in the agency is restored. To show they were serious, state lawmakers appropriated no new money to the agency in the first draft of the next state budget.

The report also called for stricter safeguards with the CPRIT Foundation, the agency's nonprofit arm that was partly created to supplement the salaries of agency executives. CPRIT has said that the agency does not receive information about donors to the foundation.

"Without that information, CPRIT has no assurances that it is not awarding grants to the CPRIT Foundation donors, which creates a conflict of interest," the report said.

The foundation has recently returned more than $19,000 to donors affiliated with grant recipients.

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