Scientists across the U.S. may view recent events at the Cancer
Prevention and Research Institute of Texas as lamentable: the dissolution
of a world-class peer review system that helped dispense $300 million a year.
Top Texas politicians don’t want any part of these blues.
The state’s governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House
earlier this week wrote a letter to CPRIT officials, urging them to move beyond
funding basic research and broaden the institute’s mandate to commercialization.
“It is now time for CPRIT to take further steps to fulfill its statutory mission
and expedite innovation that will deliver new cancer treatments to patients within
three to five years,” wrote Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker
of the House Joe Strauss in a letter dated Oct. 19.
The letter gives CPRIT officials political cover to keep doing what they had
been doing all year: moving forward with commercialization projects. These efforts
triggered the resignations of top-tier scientists from CPRIT’s review boards.
The letter from the troika of top Texas politicos was addressed to Jimmy
Mansour, a telecommunications entrepreneur who heads the CPRIT Oversight Committee.
Mansour is on record expressing relief about the exodus of scientists from
the institute’s boards (The Cancer Letter, Oct. 19). “Better to get them all out of
the way now,” Mansour wrote in an internal email that inadvertently leaked out of
CPRIT’s walls. “Gives us the prime opportunity to announce a new regime.”
Meanwhile, Perry’s enthusiasm for CPRIT appeared to grow. Earlier this week,
he made a surprise appearance at the institute’s conference.
“Since CPRITs creation, you all have helped lay a sound foundation to establish
one of the greatest cancer-fighting tools in human history,” Perry said. “The challenge
that remains before us is to build on that foundation, and finally begin curing cancer
once and for all. It’s a lofty goal, but I have full confidence that with your collective
intelligence, passion and drive, we can take the next step. We can foresee a day
when those waiting for the drug that will shrink their tumor will be waiting no longer.”
This statement could mean either that (a) Perry doesn’t realize that his claim
that Texas has done all the basic science required to proceed to cranking out cancer
cures would not gain wide traction among scientists and clinicians, or (b) CPRIT has
become precisely what the governor and others in Texas politics want it to be: a pot
of public money that can be dispensed for commercial or political purposes.