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Agenda Texas: CPRIT's Legacy

On the latest Agenda Texas, from KUT News and the Tribune: As Texas lawmakers move to reform the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, we look at what the agency has accomplished so far.

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Last week we talked about the origins of the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT. Today, in the midst of continued efforts to reform the way the agency works, we take a look at what the agency has actually done.

Good Medicine Takes Time

CPRIT wasn’t supposed to be an overnight success. Cancer research takes years and much more than the $3 billion Texas planned on spending over a decade.

“You can bring something through a clinical trial process, and what you have learned is how to make this drug better," said James Grey of the American Cancer Society in Texas. "So it actually goes through the clinical trial process all over again and provides even greater benefit. And so it takes, for some drugs some therapies, decades."

That doesn't mean the work done so far has been inconsequential. Grey said Texas is the largest funder of cancer research when compared with other states. And it’s the second-largest funder in the entire country, behind the federal government.

"All of the grants that have been funded, and have gone through the peer-review process, as they should, are doing fantastic work to find cures for cancer, but more importantly, or I should say just as important, preventing cancers from happening," Grey said.

Prevention Brings Quicker Results

The P in CPRIT, after all, stands for prevention. And the agency has handed out millions in grants to that mission as well. Leticia Goodrich is executive director for the Amarillo Area Breast Health Coalition, a group that provides education on breast cancer and access to mammograms. It was part of a $1.6 million CPRIT grant distributed to heath organizations in the Texas Panhandle.

“We increased our educational outreach by 66 percent over a three-year period, and we were able to increase our percentage of mammograms by 400 percent," Goodrich said.

The money has allowed Goodrich’s organization and its partners in the Panhandle to provide about 2,000 mammograms and increase outreach to teach women about the need for mammograms

“This African-American woman who was 58 years old stepped up and applied for a mammogram and was approved for that and got her mammogram," Goodrich said. "Well, a short time later she was in fact diagnosed with breast cancer."

The woman received treatment. About a month ago Goodrich called to see how she was doing. The woman said it was her birthday, and that without that mammogram, she’s sure she wouldn’t be alive to enjoy it.

A Rainy Day Follow-Up

Agenda Texas would like to add one additional point to Wednesday’s segment on whether spending down the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, could hurt Texas’ bond rating.

It never has before.

Over the last two decades, the fund has been tapped multiple times, including in 2005, when only $6.9 million was left. And each time, the state’s bond rating has remained the same. In 2011 Comptroller Susan Combs told lawmakers that while the bond rating agencies would like for the state to have a flush Rainy Day Fund, that's just one of several factors that can determine the state’s rating.

“We are required by the Constitution to balance our budget. And the feds are not. And we can’t run deficits. And the feds can," Combs told lawmakers. "You read from some of the ratings that they sort of rattle their saber and talk about what they might do about various countries, but they’re not threatening the state of Texas.”

As Rice professor Bob Stein pointed out, the biggest threat to Texas’ bonds aren’t the ratings, but whether municipal bonds continue to be an attractive investment compared with other financial products.; @AgendaTexas

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