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The Cancer Letter Inc.
P.O. Box 9905
Washington, D.C. 20016
publication date: Dec 17, 2012
About two weeks elapsed between Margaret Kripke committing to
take the job as chief scientific officer at the Cancer Prevention and
Research Institute of Texas and the public announcement that she
had accepted the job.
During that period, the institute took a brutal pummeling, as
Texas law enforcement agencies started investigations, legislators asked
questions and new allegations of impropriety emerged.
If the allegations stick—which is far from certain—they could move
the epicenter of CPRIT’s troubles from MD Anderson to UT Southwestern.
As it stands, the implosion at the state agency can be traced
directly to the agency’s handling of an $18 million grant for MD Anderson
scientists including Lynda Chin, the wife of MD Anderson President Ronald
DePinho, to establish a biotech incubator. CPRIT violated its own rules in an
effort to fund this project, a subsequent audit found.
In recent weeks, CPRIT disclosed that it had given an $11 million grant
to a Dallas company without conducting any peer review. The company,
Peloton Pharmaceuticals, was founded by Steven McKnight, chairman of
the Department of Biochemistry at the UT Southwestern Medical Center
(The Cancer Letter, Nov. 30).
In addition to the investigations, this revelation appears to have
triggered the departures of CPRIT’s chief commercialization officer, Jerry
Cobbs, and its executive director, Bill Gimson.
However, no information has emerged to suggest that Peloton officials
have sought special treatment or that the company’s science wouldn’t have
withstood scrutiny. In fact, the company has withstood due diligence performed
by the Column Group, a venture capital firm that led a Series A financing
investing $18 million in the start-up. Peloton’s application, funded in 2011,
is being re-reviewed. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful.
Also, the Houston Chronicle has picked up on the fact—which has
never been hidden—that Texas billionaire Peter O’Donnell, whose foundation
picks up a portion of the salaries of CPRIT officials and pays for dinners of
peer reviewers, was among those investing in Peloton.
However, sources point out that O’Donnell bought Peloton stock a year
after the company was funded, then transferred stock ownership to UT Southwestern.
Here is a chronology:
• Nov. 16: Chief Commercialization Officer Cobbs resigns, stating that he
plans to return to the private sector. The agency officials declined to elaborate
on the departure, initially describing it as a “personnel matter.”
• Nov. 29: The Peloton problem is announced in a press release. CPRIT
officials state that, in the course of a compliance review, they discovered that
the company’s proposal received $11 million without any peer review. The state
agency said it has notified Peloton and placed a hold on future funding.