As the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is set to face investigations into a grant that bypassed a mandated review, the head of the state agency has resigned his post.
"The last 8 months have been extremely difficult for those at CPRIT," Executive Director Bill Gimson wrote in a letter Monday to the institute's employees. “During this time they have not been able to do their jobs due to wasted efforts expended in low-value activities that do nothing to advance cures for cancer."
"Unfortunately, I have also been placed in a situation where I feel I can no longer be effective," he wrote, adding that he was resigning in the hope that "my fellow CPRIT workers will finally be able to get back to what is important."
The resignation, which would be effective Jan. 17, is expected to be accepted by the CPRIT governing board.
"I want to thank Mr. Gimson for his service," said attorney Tom Luce, a member of the CPRIT board, who has held multiple statewide appointments. "I think that his resignation was probably the best for the institute moving forward, and I hope it will help us mature and progress."
The attorney general's office on Monday announced an investigation into a 2010 grant for $11 million given by the organization to Dallas biotechnology firm Peloton Therapeutics. CPRIT acknowledged publicly that the grant was not preceded by the usual scrutiny over its commercial and scientific worth. At an oversight committee hearing last week, Gimson took responsibility for the decision and said that the grant was approved while the agency was still young, "just building its staff, writing rules, creating peer review companies."
The attorney general’s office called the Peloton grant "flawed" in a letter to Jimmy Mansour, the chairman of CPRIT's governing board, who sought the investigation. The inquiry will include a look at whether CPRIT staff members or others had a financial stake in the grant award.
On Tuesday, the Travis County district attorney's office announced that it would be conducting its own investigation.
Cathy Bonner, who was a top aide to Gov. Ann Richards and helped create CPRIT through a constitutional amendment in 2007, did not comment on Gimson's resignation but wrote in a statement Tuesday that the agency "has failed to carry out the mandate of the constitutional amendment authorizing the issuances of state bonds for 'research in Texas to find the causes of and cures for cancer.'”
Bonner argued that the attorney general's office should not conduct an investigation because Attorney General Greg Abbott is a member of the governing board of CPRIT. "The members of the oversight committee that includes the Attorney General," she wrote, "are not independent and have no credibility investigating this agency that they are supposed to govern."
The attorney general's office has not responded directly to such concerns. First Assistant Attorney General Daniel Hodge said his office will “seek all necessary information from current and former CPRIT staff, as well as any other individuals with knowledge of facts related to this matter.”
Charles Tate, another member of the governing board, and the chairman and founder of Houston private equity firm Capital Royalty LP, called Gimson's resignation "regrettable" and said the agency "does not deserve anything near the current level of criticism it's facing."
Gov. Rick Perry weighed in at a Houston press conference on Tuesday. "An agency needs to be transparent," he said. "It needs to have the confidence of the people of this state, and if there needs to be personnel changes or other changes [legislative or from the intervention of the AG] … I support it all, because finding the cure for cancer is one of the most important projects that we work on as a state in this decade."