13 Oct (ASSOCIATED PRESS) – At least seven scientists resigned in protest last week from Texas’ embattled $3 billion cancer-fighting program, claiming the agency created with the backing of the governor and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong is charting a politically driven path that puts commercial interests before science.
The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas has awarded almost $700 million in grants since 2009, making Texas home to the nation’s biggest pot of cancer research funding behind only the federal National Institutes of Health. But how the state agency picks projects has fallen under intensifying scrutiny, beginning in May when its chief scientific officer resigned in protest after it approved – without scientific review – a $20 million commercialization project.
Nobel laureate Dr. Phillip Sharp was among those stepping down last week, writing in his resignation letter that the institute is making funding decisions that carry a “suspicion of favoritism” in how the state is handing out taxpayer dollars. Dr. Bryan Dynlacht, another reviewer who is leaving, warned that the agency is headed down a path of systematic abuses.
“You may find that it was not worth subverting the entire scientific enterprise – and my understanding was that the intended goal of CPRIT was to fund the best cancer research in Texas – on account of this ostensibly new, politically driven, commercialization-based mission,” Dynlacht wrote.
Commercialization projects focus on turning research into drugs or other marketable products rather than funding the research itself. The letters were obtained by the Associated Press through an open records request. Sharp is professor at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while Dynlacht is at the New York University School of Medicine.
In a statement, institute Executive Director Bill Gimson called the accusations false and misinformed.
The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas was created though an ambitious bond measure approved by the state’s voters in 2007. The agency has scientists across the country who help review proposals and choose projects to fund.
In May, chief scientific officer Dr. Alfred Gilman resigned in protest after the institute approved a $20 million grant for an incubator project at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Nobel laureate told colleagues in e-mails that he was trying to prevent misuse of taxpayer dollars and funding decisions based on political considerations.
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Tags: Alfred Gilman, Bill Gimson, Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, CPRIT, Dr. Bryan Dynlacht, Dr. Philip Sharp, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Lance Armstrong, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, MIT