Senator Wendy Davis Files Sweeping Legislation to Reform CPRIT
Davis's bill to reform the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) takes 'mend it, don't end it' approach to return it to its mission of finding cures for cancer
AUSTIN — Today Sen. Wendy Davis filed an extremely important piece of legislation to address severe transparency and accountability weaknesses at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Her legislation closely tracks the recommendations issued last month by the State Auditor's Office and explained this morning by State Auditor John Keel during testimony before the Senate.
In 2007, Texas voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the constitution creating CPRIT and "authorizing the issuance of up to $3 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for research in Texas to find the causes of and cures for cancer."
"The public's trust has been broken," stated Davis. "The agency has strayed badly from its mission to find the cures for cancer; 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.
"Throughout the period of time that these egregious actions occurred, the CPRIT Oversight Committee, which includes Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs, apparently sat on its hands, with at least some of the oversight members actively participating in the agency's missteps," Davis said. "The committee's failure to catch activities that gave rise to the problems in the agency it was tasked with overseeing begs the question: was the oversight committee overseeing anything at all?" Davis said.
"Senate Bill 386 will mend, not end, CPRIT by bringing tough, necessary reforms to the agency," said Davis. "By creating an oversight committee with teeth, mandating transparency, removing conflicts of interest, and creating safety checks in the grant process, this legislation will begin to repair the significant damage done by mismanagement."
Mismanagement at CPRIT cost our state the work of two Nobel laureates, Drs. Alfred G. Gilman and Phillip A. Sharp, and a number of other scientists. Improper grant decisions have also prompted three separate investigations of the agency. In a statement explaining one of the reasons for their departure, Drs. Gilman and Sharp wrote:
[A]n expensive "commercialization" proposal, constructed and submitted in unorthodox ways that circumvented CPRIT's rules, was rushed to the Oversight Committee and approved for $20 million for its initial year of operations, despite the absence of description or scientific review of its drug development program.
Last November, CPRIT admitted that grantee Peloton Therapeutics received an $11 million commercialization grant without proper review. This January, the State Auditor raised serious questions about CTNeT, which was awarded a $25.2 million grant from CPRIT two months before CTNeT existed and without apparent scientific review.
The Auditor also discovered that CPRIT failed to abide by its own policies, neglecting to conduct desk reviews on 487 grants totaling approximately $683 million. Just as disturbing, the Auditor discovered that, although CPRIT's own rules barred advance payments on grants, it made $40.2 million of such payments.
"SB 386 closely tracks the Auditor's recommendations," said Davis. "Over the past few months, my office has worked to enforce accountability by requesting critical documents at both CPRIT and the Foundation. To my surprise, the Foundation, in particular, has refused to comply with requests. As a result, my legislation implements the Auditor's recommendation that the 'CPRIT Foundation make its records, books, and reports available to the public.'"
With significant reform, CPRIT can yet play a vital role in the effort to develop treatments for the cure for cancer. In the interest of returning CPRIT to its mission, Senate Bill 386 will:
- Remove the current potential for conflict between grant applicants, the CPRIT Foundation and the Oversight Committee by restricting donations and political contributions;
- Prohibit the appointment of those with a financial interest in a grantee from serving on the Oversight Committee;
- Prohibit donations to CPRIT from those applying for grants or currently receiving funding;
- Prohibit the Foundation from supplementing salaries and place the Foundation under the same laws and disclosures as the agency;
- Prohibit a person from serving on the boards of both CPRIT and the Foundation;
- Remove the Attorney General and Comptroller from the CPRIT Oversight Committee;
- Require that grant decisions be approved by the Oversight Committee by two-thirds vote. Current law only allows a veto of decisions by a two-thirds vote;
- Require grantees to sign a compliance agreement, to be reviewed annually by a compliance officer;
- Require that a minimum of 10 percent of grant funds be spent on cancer prevention; and
- Move the Sunset review date from 2021 to 2015.
"This legislation is a work in progress," said Davis. "While it currently contains the necessary principles, I look forward to working with my colleagues in both chambers, particularly Chairmen Keffer and Nelson, and on both sides of the aisle, in the weeks ahead to develop a combined bill that brings reform to CPRIT and returns the agency to its mission of finding a cure for cancer."