CPRIT Marks Midpoint in Texas Agency’s 10-Year Cancer-Fighting Mandate

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin—Officials at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Tuesday marked the midpoint of the agency’s mandate.

“Curing cancer takes 10 to 15 years and costs hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions,” said Wayne Roberts, CPRIT’s executive director. “But preventions and cures are possible with every advance…Cancer is not cured now, but it is one discovery at a time.”

To date, CPRIT has awarded 998 grants totaling $1,496,398,115. On Wednesday, the agency will announce additional awards, which it says will push that amount over $1.5 billion—the halfway mark of its $3 million mandate.

CPRIT, or “sip-rit,” as the agency is known, was approved by Texas voters in a 2007 referendum to spend $3 billion in taxpayer money to help prevent, find cures for, and educate the public about cancer. The institute began giving out grants in 2011.

Among those investments are funds put into a number of notable young biotech and life sciences companies that have come through the agency’s filters and received funding to help develop therapies, pay for clinical trials, and other needs of young biotech companies. These include Apollo Endosurgery, which has developed a flexible endoscope to remove early-stage cancer from the gastrointestinal tract instead of major invasive surgery, and Asuragen, which makes a kit and software to identify tumor mutations.

In total, CPRIT has invested in 13 companies. One of them, Mirna Therapeutics, filed for an IPO last August.

Michael Lang, the agency’s chief product development officer, said CPRIT has given out 28 product development grants—funds that go directly to companies seeking to commercialize therapies, or devices—for a total of $200 million. The vast majority of the money has been allotted to drug companies, he added.

“But the real proof in the pudding is in the outputs; one of the outputs is follow-on funding,” Lang said. “These companies have attracted over a billion dollars in follow-on funding, the vast majority from private interests. That’s a very significant testament to our success.”

Among the statistics Roberts recounted Tuesday were: 84 clinical trials, which have enrolled a combined 1,500 patients; 4,700 jobs created, none of which have left the state; and 110 “star” researchers brought to Texas. “We have brought 2,000 future years of research to Texas,” he said. “They will be CPRIT’s legacy and Texas’ gift.”

The briefing comes four years after the agency stumbled and had its operations suspended because of conflicts of interest allegations and improperly awarded grants. The agency was reopened in June 2013.

For Will Montgomery, assistant presiding officer on the agency’s oversight board, having CPRIT in the state is personal. Jim Allison was recruited away from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in 2010 to head the immunology department of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His work “saved the life of my great-uncle,” Montgomery said. “He’s free of lung cancer.”