Dallas attorney Tom Luce has resigned from the oversight committee of the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Luce, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education, founding partner of the Hughes and Luce law firm (now a part of KL Gates) and a longtime education and business policy leader, said Thursday he has accepted a new position as chief operating officer of the O'Donnell Foundation, a Dallas-based education group. He said his duties there, in addition to his role as chairman of the board of the National Math and Science Initiative, "did not leave me the time necessary" to help guide CPRIT through its recent troubles.
"I am pleased with the progress CPRIT has made in the past few months and I am confident it will continue to restore its credibility with the Legislature and state leadership," Luce wrote in an email to the Tribune.
In recent months, CPRIT has been embroiled in controversy, after a state audit revealed that three grants — totaling $56 million — were approved without proper peer review. The Travis County district attorney’s office is conducting an investigation to determine whether the actions of former CPRIT employees were criminal. Although the investigation is ongoing, current members of the CPRIT oversight board, including Luce, have been cleared from suspicion.
The investigation began after CPRIT's oversight committee publicly disclosed an internal report that found an $11 million grant to Peloton Therapeutics had been approved without scientific review. After the disclosure, media reports revealed potential conflicts of interest involved with that grant.
Dallas philanthropist Peter O'Donnell, whose initial investment helped create Peloton Therapeutics, is the largest donor to the CPRIT Foundation, which supplements the salaries of the executive director and chief scientific officer at CPRIT. Since 2009, the O’Donnell Foundation — Luce's new employer — has donated $1.5 million to the foundation.
“We are sorry to lose Mr. Luce and the experience and insight he brought to the Oversight Committee, but we respect his reasoning for resigning — in his and the agency’s best interest,” Wayne Roberts, interim executive director of CPRIT, said in a statement.
State leaders called for a moratorium on CPRIT grants in December, which left on hold a combined $183 million in approved grants. Despite that moratorium, CPRIT received permission this month to move forward on contract negotiations for 25 grants that would bring renowned cancer researchers to Texas.
The research grants represent a combined $72 million and were formally approved by the CPRIT oversight board in late 2012 before the moratorium took effect. Many of the researchers had moved their families and research labs to Texas in anticipation of receiving CPRIT financing.
Since 2010, CPRIT has awarded nearly 500 grants totaling $836 million. With that financing, Texas’ higher education institutions have recruited 44 prominent cancer researchers to the state, and 184,000 Texans have been screened for cancer — including 38,000 people who had never received cancer screenings before, according to the institute’s figures.