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14 October 2012

scientists bail from Texas taxpayer cancer research institute

The Associated Press (USA newswire)
Saturday 13 October 2012

7 more cancer scientists
resign from Texas institute
over research grant controversy

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- At least 7 more scientists have resigned in protest from Texas’ embattled U$3,000,000,000 cancer-fighting program, claiming that the agency in charge of it is charting a “politically driven” path that puts commercial interests before science.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, created with the backing of Gov. Rick Perry and the bicyclist Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor, has awarded nearly U$700,000,000 in grants since 2009; only the [USA federal] National Institutes of Health offers a bigger pot of cancer-research money.

Scrutiny of how the state agency selects projects has intensified since May, when its chief scientific officer, Dr. Alfred G. Gilman, a Nobel laureate, resigned in protest after it approved a U$20,000,000 commercialization project without scientific review.

Phillip A. Sharp, another Nobel laureate, was among 7 scientists who resigned from the institute last week, writing in his resignation letter that the agency’s decisions have carried a “suspicion of favoritism” in how the state is handing out taxpayer dollars.

Brian Dynlacht, another scientist who is leaving, warned that the agency was headed down a path of systematic abuses.

“You may find that it was not worth subverting the entire scientific enterprise -- and my understanding was that the intended goal of C.P.R.I.T. was to fund the best cancer research in Texas -- on account of this ostensibly new, politically driven, commercialization-based mission,” Dr. Dynlacht wrote in his letter.

Commercialization projects focus on turning research into drugs or other products that can be sold rather than financing research itself.

Dr. Sharp is a professor at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while Dr. Dynlacht is at the New York University School of Medicine.

In a statement, the executive director of the Texas institute, Bill Gimson, called the accusations false and misinformed.

The institute was created though a bond measure approved by Texas voters in 2007. Scientists across the country help review proposals and choose projects to finance. 

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