State leaders speak out on CPRIT investigation
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Political leaders are speaking out about the investigation into the Cancer and Prevention and Research Institute of Texas as new details emerge into the way an $11 million grant was awarded to the state agency.
CPRIT Executive Director William Gimson stepped down Tuesday after 31 scientists and two Nobel Laureates quit the $3 billion publicly-funded research institute during the last several months.
Now, the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit has launched an investigation. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said he is aware of the criminal investigation.
"Between the various investigations and questions on behalf of those with oversight, and the legislature, I am sure we will get to the bottom of the issues here,” Straus said.
CPRIT documents obtained from Texans for Public Justice show that institute's policies, and possibly criminal laws, were violated.
A September internal audit of 14 funded companies reveals red flags with the $11 million Peloton grant. The grant was approved despite the fact that Peloton was just a "start-up" company without a management team. The records show a "lack of documents available for review."
"This is a $3 billion pot of public money, and when there is $3 billion of public money on the table, the wolves will come around," Andrew Wheat with Texans for Public Justice said.
The audit also shows Peloton skipped most steps of the application and review process.
Jerry Cobbs was CPRIT's Chief Commercialization Officer at the time. He said the application skipped review because funding was already approved.
In an email to YNN, CPRIT Vice Chairman Barbra Canales wrote, I believe in the mission of CPRIT. I believe we have the procedures now in place to insure that the 100 percent of funds a provided are going to the best science . Cancer is truly the emperor of all Maladies and what Texas voters have accomplished in supporting this type of funding is extraordinary. I want to see their vision through to fruition with integrity. I am committed to this endeavor.”
Still, Progress Texas Director Glenn Smith said CPRIT was aware rules were broken.
"Its practices and procedures have not been followed, that all the scientists quit in protest of at least the sloppiness or incompetence, if not the illegality, of the agency," Smith said.
Now, investigators are on the hunt for missing emails.
"Why can't we have the emails?” Wheat said. “Why can't we have the paper trail that showed what happened in this particular case."
The State Attorney General's Office is also investigating. Attorney General Greg Abbott serves on the CPRIT board.