Commercial vs. scientific goals: Texas fund seeks new chief

An Austin-based cancer agency is criticized for disregarding scientific review, possibly in favor of an economic-development agenda. Can this inherent conflict be resolved?
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

Earlier this month, Nobel laureate Alfred Gilman left his role as chief scientific officer of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. He quit in protest over a disregard for peer review.

Can the institute simultaneously support basic research AND nurture companies – or will a conflict of interest undermine the institute? Nature News reports.

Austin-based CPRIT was created in 2007 when Texas voters agreed to a $3-billion initiative that would spend $300 million a year to advance basic research, reduce cancer rates, and nurture Texas companies. A lot of innovative research was funded.

But earlier this year, Gilman criticized a $20-million commercial ‘incubator’ grant awarded without scientific review – at the same time that a set of grants recommended by the scientific council stalled.

The grant was withdrawn for re-review, provisions were made for scientific review of commercial grants, sidelined grants were approved, and a compliance officer was hired. But many scientific reviewers resigned along with Gilman – accusing CPRIT of “hucksterism.”

CPRIT executive director William Gimson agrees that there were “process problems” with the grants – but says that concerns “mostly boil down to the natural conflict that exists between our scientific and commercialization portfolios.”

Experts and officials weigh in:

  • “There are very few examples I can think of where adequate review has occurred when there has been an economic-development agenda,” says Hamilton Moses at research consulting firm Alerion Advisors.
  • Bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe at Emory University says: “The quickest way they can come back is through the resignation of the director,” signaling a commitment to change. “Barring that, they need to put in a fully independent external review of their processes and procedures. And they need to announce very clear remedial measures.”
  • Garnet Coleman of the Texas House of Representatives, believes that the CPRIT’s problems originated with legislation that created the institute without appropriate internal safeguards. “It was like somebody didn’t know how to write the creation of a state agency, but they did anyway,” he says. “We need to take the rules, fix them and put them in statute.”

[Via Nature News]

Image: CPRIT

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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