More than 800 scientists, doctors and cancer fighters are gathering in Austin this week for the Innovation in Cancer Prevention and Research Conference. The topic of conversation? The research made possible by grants from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
In 2007, Texas voters approved the creation of CPRIT to invest $3 billion over 10 years in cancer research, prevention services and commercialization efforts. “CPRIT’s mission is to expedite the innovation and commercialization of cancer research, increasing potential for medical and scientific breakthroughs,” says Bill Gimson, CPRIT’s executive director. CPRIT also works to improve access to cancer prevention programs supported by scientific evidence around the state.
Over its first 14 months, CPRIT awarded $215 million in the form of 207 grants to 46 different institutions, community organizations and companies throughout Texas. CPRIT expects to award another $216 million in grants in 2011. “The quality of science that is being selected by those committees is outstanding; it’s at the forefront,” says Phil Sharp, chairman of the scientific review council.
There are seven review committees, with a total of 110 members, who choose the grant recipients. Sharp says all of the review members are outside the state of Texas and have no affiliation to anyone applying for the funds. “In many of the categories of the review committees, less than 10 percent of the applicants are being funded,” Sharp says. “The process is selecting really outstanding proposals and outstanding people to recruit to Texas.”
Harold Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute, says he envies CPRIT’s fresh start on the front to fight cancer. “We are wrestling with how to make changes in a system that’s already established, and that people who belong to the system are not eager to change,” Varmus says. “You are able to start with the benefit of our past experience and try to do it right from the start.”
Varmus says he looks forward to the National Cancer Institute and CPRIT being equal partners and sharing information to accelerate efforts to prevent and cure cancer. He also covets the scientific and economic opportunities CPRIT is bringing to Texas. “As someone who is sitting on a substantial budget, but one that is actually shrinking as we watch it, it’s envy-making to see what this group of people is doing with brand new money — building new programs, taking advantage of opportunities, demonstrating to the people of Texas and the world that investing in talent and scientific opportunity is good for the health of the citizens of this country and good for the economy of Texas,” Varmus says.