Texas Cancer Agency Poised to Receive Two-Year Extension

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin—The future of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) waits for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

Texas lawmakers have passed legislation to expand the life of the agency, also known as CPRIT, which was created through a referendum a decade ago to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund cancer research and treatment projects.

A letter to Abbott from the Texas Cancer Partnership argues that “Texas’ investment in cancer research and programs through CPRIT is sound policy that makes economic sense.” The partnership is an advocacy a group that includes the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Texas Association of Business.

“While we believe the private and non-profit sectors play an important role in funding cancer research and programs,” the letter states, “we also firmly believe that investments by state and federal government institutions are critically important to leverage in the fight against cancer.”

The bill before Abbott would push CPRIT’s sunset date back from 2021 to 2023, in order to use about $70 million in unexpired bond authority for cancer projects. The money is leftover, so to speak, because the agency was temporarily shut down in 2012 following allegations of improperly awarded grants and misallocation of funds. The state imposed a series of reforms and, after a year-long hiatus, the agency reopened. At the time, some in the Texas biotech community wondered if CPRIT could have the impact originally envisioned for the agency.

Still, the agency has continued to make grants in three categories: research, prevention, and commercialization. CPRIT says that to date, it has awarded $320.6 million in product development grants of a total $1.79 billion.

As lawmakers debated CPRIT’s future this spring, Mike Lang, the agency’s head of product development, says he was traveling around the state meeting with various biotech networks in local communities. “We’re of no value unless we’re engaged with the companies that we support,” he says.

While protocol naturally prevents any “game-time advice” for companies with outstanding proposals, Lang says CPRIT should be educating companies on what it takes to get state funding and the application process. “Only about 10 percent of applicants are ultimately funded,” he adds.

The agency is currently in the middle of a funding cycle and Lang says new grants should be announced in August. In the meantime, he says agency officials are in regular contact with previous awardees. “We don’t just write someone a large check,” he says. “It’s given in tranches. We observe the company, and they have to provide updates and status reports.”