Monday, February 04, 2013

The Story of CPRIT, Part 5: A Can of Worms

The publicity engendered by the walkout caused more attention to various aspects of the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). This turned up a number of other real or potential issues, as a compliance officer reviewed all past commercialization grants and a state audit was done. (As well, investigations by the Travis County DA and the Attorney General of Texas are ongoing.)

The Dallas Morning News discovered that commercialization awards had been going to companies with connections to Perry and Dewhurst campaign contributors. A CPRIT commercialization award had gone to a firm, Caliber Biotherapeutics, associated with a Dallas businessman who made substantial contributions to the campaigns of Governor Perry and Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst.

When the paper probed about what sort of review scores the commercialization awards had received, it was discovered that one commercialization award, $11 million to Peloton Therapeutics in 2010, had been made with no formal review or scoring of any kind. It was simply placed on the Oversight Committee's agenda by Jerry Cobb, the Chief Commercialization Officer, and approved. Philanthropist Peter O'Donnell, an investor in Peloton, had contributed around a couple of hundred thousand dollars each to Governor Perry and to David Dewhurst. As well, his O'Donnell Foundation had contributed $1.6 million to the CPRIT Foundation. (However, it may have been that O’Donnell bought the Peloton stock after the company was funded, and had transferred the stock to UT Southwestern.)

Jerry Cobb, the Chief Commercialization Officer, resigned in November. Bill Gimson resigned as executive director of CPRIT in December. And a freeze, requested by political officials, was placed on new grants in December.  

Questions were raised about the CPRIT Foundation, which raised private money for CPRIT for various purposes including $609,000 used for supplementation of salaries of CPRIT's top officials, including Dr. Gilman. The Foundation maintained it had no obligation to disclose donors or file tax returns, but after pressure, names of donors were revealed. These included donations from pharmaceutical and drug development companies, and from people associated with companies that had received CPRIT awards.

And a state audit came out in late January, raising still further questions. The state audit was very critical of  a number of things, including a third grant that had been approved without proper review, for $25.2 million, to CTNeT (Statewide Clinical Trials Network of Texas, "a non-profit company whose purpose is to develop an efficient cancer clinical trial network for evaluating therapeutic drugs and treatments for cancer in adults and children"). The award was made before the company was formed to M.D. Anderson, and then the money was transferred to CPRIT once the company was established. The executive director of the O'Donnell Foundation, mentioned above, was the registered agent for CTNeT rather than anyone from M.D. Anderson. Also, constitutional requirements about matching funds were not being complied with, and funds were dispersed for purposes not appropriate for a research grant.

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