May 20th 2016 | Posted in Healthcare by Peter Partheymuller

Cancer institute has awarded $1.5 billion for cancer research, product commercialization

The Texas Legislature passed legislation in the 2007 legislative session that led to the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) as a source of funding for research and medical commercialization. Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment that established the institute and approved its funding with $3 billion in bond money in the November 2007 election, and CPRIT was authorized to use that money over a 10-year period.

cprit_logo2This week, CPRIT’s leaders awarded 35 grants worth $79.2 million to academic researchers and product development researchers. Those grants pushed the institute’s total awards past two important health care milestones. There have been more than 1,000 grants awarded for just more than $1.5 billion now, pushing CPRIT over the midway point in terms of its authorized funding.

“Since we began awarding grants in 2010, we’ve taken Texas farther and faster in the fight against cancer,” said Chief Executive Officer Wayne Roberts. “CPRIT has accelerated cancer research and prevention to get answers about cancer faster, push promising drugs into clinical trials sooner and prevent cancer or detect it earlier.”

The grants are divided into three categories: academic research, prevention and product development.

About two-thirds of the grant funding already awarded, just shy of $1 billion, has gone to academic research programs. Among the mandates given to the institute was to bring nationally recognized cancer researchers and scholars to Texas so that the state’s medical and educational institutions may benefit directly from their work. Since the first CPRIT grants were awarded in 2010, almost $335 million has been used to recruit 110 scientists to Texas institutions.

CPRIT’s announcement of the milestones reached this week highlighted two doctors brought to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center through CPRIT grants. Raghu Kalluri has used the funding to do work toward the development of a blood test that may detect pancreatic cancers at an earlier stage than ever before. Cassian Yee’s work in immunotherapy is headed to the clinical trial stage with a company that has benefited from a CPRIT product commercialization grant.

About 30 recipients have been awarded product development grants totaling about $275 million. Two of them have already reached the market. One has developed a kit and software used in labs and aids researchers in identifying mutations that power cancer cells. The other has built a flexible endoscope that removes early stage cancer from the gastrointestinal tract. That product has been used in 5,000 procedures in lieu of invasive surgery, which has historically been the method used to perform the operation.

The institute was forced to shut down funding operations for almost a year in 2013 amid a controversy over suspect methodology used in awarding several grants.  Legislators devoted close attention to the institute, and CPRIT was in danger of being shuttered permanently. A legislative reform package passed in the 2013 session and, later that year, the institute was again allowed to continue its funding operations.

Jeff Hillery, a spokesman for CPRIT, says of the institute in the years since: “CPRIT implemented the reforms required by the legislature in the 83rd session. Those reforms included heightened conflict-of-interest standards, process improvements for developing and approving grants and more consistent and effective monitoring of grantees’ performance that strengthen the agency’s commitment to transparency and accountability in all of its operations.”

He also stressed that the legislative reforms mandate that, “if an application is not recommended by the peer reviewers, then neither CPRIT’s Program Integration Committee nor its Oversight Committee is able to consider that application.”

Since the legislative moratorium was lifted, CPRIT has awarded about 400 grants worth $600 million.

The complete list of CPRIT grantees is available on the institute’s website.

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