Under the microscope following its chief scientific officer’s controversial resignation, the state’s $3 billion cancer institute is hosting a meeting Tuesday in Austin to assess its business and science practices.
Alfred Gilman, a Nobel prize-winning biochemist, announced his resignation from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute in May, citing concerns that CPRIT had awarded money without using proper review standards. He will step down effective Oct. 12.
The announcement followed a letter Gilman wrote, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, alleging that political considerations had trumped scientific merit in a joint grant awarded to Rice University and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The grant drew attention because of its quick approval as a commercialization project, not as a scientific project, which must undergo an intense peer review.
Tuesday’s meeting, part of an extended process to reform CPRIT, will focus on the future of the institute, and is designed to help the governing board examine how CPRIT reviews grants and allocates resources. The institute is also undergoing a state audit to evaluate its grant-making procedures. The audit, which was scheduled prior to and independently of Gilman’s resignation, will end in January.
Bill Gimson, CPRIT's executive director, said there probably would have been efforts to re-evalute CPRIT's processes even if Gilman hadn't stepped down. But, he added, "the timing couldn't be better."
"I can't minimize the importance of doing it now," Gimson said.
The meeting is the first time that all of CPRIT's advisory committees will jointly discuss the institute's practices and goals, Gimson said, saying it will be "extremely helpful" in clarifying the relationship between commercialization and research at the institute.
CPRIT will probably hold several more sessions around the state to brainstorm potential changes at the institute, Gimson said. He added that the institute will probably go through a similar process two or three years from now.
"We are a learning organization," Gimson said. "We will always go back and look for ways to improve."
CPRIT has also said it will review the grant made to Rice and M.D. Anderson, and will have out-of-state scientists evaluate similar grants in the future. That review will apply both to commercialization grants and scientific grants. The institute will also hire a compliance officer to review all grants CPRIT makes.