AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Leaders of Texas' embattled $3 billion cancer-fighting effort approved an $11 million grant to a biomedical company even though the proposal wasn't reviewed, according to an internal audit that deepens the troubles of a state agency that has been denounced in recent months by some of the world's top scientists.
A person with knowledge of the grant's improper approval told The Associated Press on Thursday that the discovery was uncovered during internal audit of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agency had not yet made an official announcement.
The award to Peloton Therapeutic Inc. in 2010 was among first ever handed out by the agency, and remains one of its largest taxpayer-funded grants to date. Tim Kutzkey, Peloton's acting chief executive officer, declined comment.
The cancer institute is home to the nation's second largest pot of cancer-research money, behind only the National Institutes of Health, and has awarded nearly $700 million. But it has come under intensifying scrutiny as several scientists, including two Nobel laureates, resigned in protest in recent months claiming the agency was charting a new politically-driven path that put commercial interests before science.
Pelton's application would have been presented to the agency's oversight committee by Jerry Cobbs, the agency's chief commercialization officer. Cobbs announced his resignation this month.
The person told AP that the oversight committee — made up of appointees of Gov. Rick Perry and other elected state leaders — approved the grant even though it was presented without an outside review of the proposal's scientific or business integrity.
The person told AP that funding to Peloton has been halted and that the company's application is undergoing a second review.
The revelation is the latest blow to CPRIT, which launched in 2009 to widespread acclaim among scientists and cancer survivors but has spent the past year unraveling. Dozens of scientists have resigned from the agency's peer review panels en masse in recent weeks, some of whom criticized the fund for "hucksterism" and "suspicion of favoritism" on their way out the door.