Updated, Jan. 23, 4 p.m.:
The Travis County district attorney’s office clarified on Wednesday that its criminal investigation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas “is ongoing and aggressive.” The comments followed assurances made Tuesday by a spokesman for CPRIT, chairman Jimmy Mansour, that "CPRIT, as an organization, and all current board members, are free from suspicion in the ongoing CPRIT investigation."
“Chairman Mansour and other current CPRIT board members are not under suspicion in the investigation,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said in a statement, adding that her office may continue to question CPRIT board members on matters related to the investigation. “Let me emphasize the investigation is very serious and we are far from finished in our efforts.”
A Texas lawmaker looking to overhaul the beleaguered Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has filed a measure to permanently stanch the organization's current funding source. Other bills filed in the state Senate would change the institute's funding structure.
The 2007 voter-approved constitutional amendment that created CPRIT authorized the state to purchase bonds to fund $3 billion in cancer research grants over 10 years. Republican Sen. Kevin Eltife, of Tyler, filed a measure to stop funding CPRIT through the sale of bonds. Eltife's SJR 19 would allow Texas voters to decide whether to remove the constitutional amendment that authorized the grants.
"Like many Texans, I have lost a loved one to cancer, and I understand the importance of research for cures and treatments," Eltife said in a prepared statement. "However, I do not support the State of Texas going into debt to accomplish these objectives, and would prefer that it be funded on a 'pay-as-you-go' basis."
The proposal would not dissolve CPRIT but rather require the state to find an alternative funding mechanism.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has filed a bill to allow royalties and licensing fees collected by CPRIT to be used to pay for the debt service for the bonds. Nelson also filed SB 149 to require a compliance officer to verify future grants received proper review and that additional measures are implemented to prevent future conflicts of interest.
"As our investment begins to yield royalties and other proceeds, we should make sure that this revenue is used to offset costs and eventually put CPRIT on a path toward self-sustainability," Nelson said.
After it was discovered that CPRIT awarded an $11 million commercialization grant to Peloton Therapeutics without proper review, the Travis County district attorney’s office and Texas attorney general opened criminal and civil investigations of the organization. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus called for a moratorium on new CPRIT grants. And the 2014-15 biennium budgets proposed by both the House and Senate slashed all funding for the institute.
Jimmy Mansour, the chairman of CPRIT board met with the district attorney’s office last week.
Mansour “was assured that CPRIT, as an organization, and all current board members, are free from suspicion in the ongoing CPRIT investigation,” Bill Miller, a spokesman for Mansour, said in an email to The Texas Tribune. “Mr. Mansour reiterated that CPRIT will continue to work closely with investigators and the Legislature to bring this to a close.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Nelson had also filed a bill to stop funding CPRIT with bonds. Her bill would change the funding structure.
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