Texas cancer-fighting agency is a financial mess

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Texas State Auditor has produced a 99-page report showing that the troubled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is, indeed, deeply troubled. It says the agency must "significantly improve the transparency and accountability of its grant management processes."

CPRIT is the ambitious, $3 billion state cancer-fighting effort approved by voters in a 2007 constitutional amendment. The institute issues grants to researchers to investigate the causes and prevention of cancer and in the commercialization of their discoveries. It is second only to the National Institutes of Health in the cancer research funding it oversees.

Gov. Rick Perry proposed CPRIT, and lawmakers backed it as something the state could be proud of, but the past few months have been embarrassing. Last spring, internal squabbles and accusations of politics trumping science led to the departure of the agency's chief science officer and dozens of scientists who reviewed grant requests.

The chief commercialization officer and the executive director left later in the year after it was disclosed that CPRIT had awarded an $11 million grant to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics with no scientific review.

Now a team of state auditors has reported that key accounting and record-keeping policies are poorly enforced or missing in action at CPRIT. In some cases, the agency issued grants worth millions of dollars without proper review, failed to get or keep proper documentation, allowed grantees to avoid putting up promised matching funds, did not track research progress, gave a $25.2 million grant to an organization in which some CPRIT insiders played a role and failed to properly supervise its own financial practices.

To their credit, state officials froze the agency's funding when problems mounted.

None of this is irreparable. CPRIT can still be something for Texans to be proud of. But the purse strings must be tightened, and highly qualified leaders must be found to fix what's gone wrong.

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