Texas cancer agency oversight must be thorough, strict

Posted Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information CPRIT Oversight Committee Angelos Angelou, Austin; Gerald Geistweidt, Mason; Pete Geren, Fort Worth; Ned Holms, Houston; Amy Mitchell, Austin; Cynthia D. Mulrow, San Antonio; William Rice, Austin; Craig Rosenfeld, Dallas; Mark Watson Jr., San Antonio. See biographies, meeting documents, stream video link, timeline at www.cprit.state.tx.us/.

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The eyes of Texas are on the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) as the Institute takes its first major step toward reviving its historic mission to fight cancer — an effort that nearly derailed because of serious lapses in judgment made by its former leaders.

On Friday, the newly appointed CPRIT Oversight Committee will meet for the first time. The committee members’ actions will be closely monitored as they begin to implement a long list of legislative changes, improve accountability and, most importantly, restore the public’s faith in our quest to end cancer.

For us, the mission remains clearly in focus. We want to end cancer, once and for all, and we believe CPRIT will move us closer to that goal.

That’s why Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of CPRIT in 2007, committing $3 billion over 10 years to spur cancer research efforts that would otherwise go unfunded; to promote prevention; and to help speed up the process of moving promising new treatments from the lab to the patient.

In addition, voters responded to the idea of making Texas a premier center for cancer research, bringing the best and brightest minds to our state and creating medical advancements and economic opportunities.

These objectives are still before us, but we will not succeed unless the newly appointed committee fully commits to total transparency and the highest ethical standards.

Previous agency leaders bent the rules, interpreted laws in ways that no reasonable person would and failed to provide meaningful oversight.

They let down millions of Texans who are impacted directly or indirectly by cancer. And they broke the public faith in CPRIT.

During its regular session this year, the Legislature approved SB 149, which will leave no room for interpretation in what we expect from CPRIT’s leaders.

The new law reforms the governance structure, strengthens conflict-of-interest prohibitions, overhauls the grant approval process and ensures the agency operates in total sunlight.

With those provisions in place, the Legislature also gave the institute the authority to restart CPRIT’s work — but with stern warnings that we are watching. The people of Texas are watching, too.

The new members of the oversight committee face an arduous task.

They must implement a set of oversight requirements that are rigorous and labor-intensive. They must re-establish Texas’ credibility in the science community as a cancer research leader. They must restart the engines of our grant approval process.

They must re-connect with the cancer community and those working to prevent this disease. Most importantly, they must restore public trust.

It is not a job for the faint of heart. We commend the newly appointed members of the committee. We appreciate their willingness to serve our state, and we are counting on them to move CPRIT forward in a way that makes Texas proud.

Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, represents Texas Senate District 12, including large parts of Tarrant and Denton counties. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, represents Texas House District 60, covering eight counties west and southwest of Fort Worth.

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