Amidst speculation that Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) is poised for a statewide race, she filed legislation today that would reform the scandal-plagued Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). At a Tuesday morning press conference, Davis presented Senate Bill 386, which she said would fix the “transparency and accountability weaknesses” that have roiled CPRIT.
“The agency has strayed badly from its mission to find the cures for cancer,” Davis said, “awarding questionable grants without proper review, establishing an external foundation that claims to be beyond public scrutiny, blurring the lines of accountability due to conflicts of interest and inviting self-interested corporate influence into the decision-making process.”
Davis pointed to the findings of State Auditor John Keel, who earlier today testified in front of a Senate committee. The scathing audit pointed to a number of fundamental mismanagement issues that have cast a shadow over the institute.
After launching in 2009 as an innovative effort to tackle cancer, CPRIT has become the focus of criminal prosecutions and legislative scrutiny. In November, it came to light that Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, a biomedical startup, had received an $11 million grant without the appropriate scientific and expert review.
Davis’ legislation would shake up the agency by imposing strict parameters on how it functions.
Her plan includes removing the potential for conflict between grant applicants, prohibiting any appointments with financial interest in a grantee from serving on the Oversight Committee, prohibiting donations to CPRIT from anyone applying for grants or receiving funding and removing Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the oversight committee.
(The last item is probably a moot point; this morning the head of CPRIT announced that Abbott and Combs would be removed.)
Senate Bill 386 also would compel the CPRIT Foundation—a non-profit affiliated with the agency—to provide “records, books, and reports” under the state’s open records law.
Davis focused much of her ire on CPRIT’s oversight committee, as many of the committee members had conflicts of interest relating to which grants were doled out.
“Was the oversight committee overseeing anything at all?” she asked.
CPRIT neglected to conduct reviews on a total of 487 grants, totalling about $683 million in funds it awarded to recipients, according to the state auditor. The auditor also raised serious questions about the Statewide Clinical Trials Network of Texas (or CTNeT, a non-profit cancer research network) in January. CTNeT was allegedly “awarded a $25.2 million grant from CPRIT two months before CTNeT existed and without apparent scientific review.”
Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) is also proposing similar legislation, and Davis contends that the two will be combining their efforts in order to pass a comprehensive bill with as much support as possible.