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The Cancer Letter Inc.
PO Box 9905
publication date: May 25, 2012
Top-level scientists whose involvement lent credibility to an effort to
invest $3 billion in Texas taxpayers’ money in cancer research are saying
that the state program departed from peer review procedures when it awarded
ts largest grant ever—to a technology incubator co-directed by the wife of
the president of MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Earlier this month, the highly respected chief scientific officer of the
Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas resigned in protest over
the decision to award as much as $20 million to a technology “incubator”
co-directed by Lynda Chin, professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department
of Genomic Medicine, who is married to the institution’s president Ronald DePinho.
Chin’s grant, the largest one-year expenditure in CPRIT’s history, didn’t
go through the same peer review machinery to which standard research grants
are subjected. Instead, the six-and-a-half-page proposal sailed rapidly through
a commercialization review panel over less than three weeks.
In his letter of resignation, Alfred Gilman, a Nobel laureate, said that the
$20 million joint project of MD Anderson and Rice University was, at its core, a
scientific program, which needed to be subjected to scientific review.
The Cancer Letter has established that standard procedures were not followed
either at MD Anderson or at CPRIT in the handling of the application.
• In a departure from standard procedures, the proposal didn’t go through
review by the MD Anderson provost. Raymond DuBois, the provost, said he wasn’t
asked to conduct a review. (See the Q&A on page 1.) Provosts manage the
academic mission of their institutions, looking out for potential ethical pitfalls,
which can occur when a husband and wife team holds key positions in an institution.
The MD Anderson proposal includes expanding the capacity to conduct phase I trials,
opening the potential for ethical problems to spill over into the clinic.
• The MD Anderson proposal was, in fact, submitted without review by any
provost. Officials at Rice said that they reviewed only their own portion of the proposal.
Rice officials said they “saw” the MD Anderson portion of the proposal after it was
first submitted to the state funding agency.
• After bypassing standard institutional review, the MD Anderson portion of the
proposal was submitted to CPRIT in a way that bypassed the procedures specified in
the state agency’s request for proposals. The proposal was submitted by an official of
Chin’s unit of MD Anderson directly to CPRIT chief commercialization officer via email.
• The CPRIT official then turned around and, bypassing the electronic filing
procedures, forwarded the email over to the contractor that manages grant awards for
the state agency, knowledgeable sources said. The contractor then forwarded the
application to the reviewers.
• In another departure from rules, a meeting of outside advisors who reviewed
the commercialization proposal was convened by the CPRIT general counsel, rather
than the contractor, sources said.
• At that meeting, which was held March 21, a reviewer who recused himself—
citing his role on the board of directors of a company founded by Chin and DePinho—
was nonetheless invited to address the committee and describe the track record of the
• The chair of the five-member review committee and one member of the board
figured on the Rice portion of the application, which had been reviewed earlier. The
committee’s chair didn’t cast a vote, but the conflicted committee member voted on the
MD Anderson portion of the application, state officials confirmed.
This Texas drama has been escalating in recent weeks.