Controversial Texas 'Incubator' Grant Will Undergo Scientific Review

Texas's $3 billion cancer research fund is taking more steps to defuse a controversy over the role of scientific review in making grant decisions. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) now says that a controversial "incubator" grant awarded in March to the University of Texas (UT) MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston will be reevaluated by both scientific and business experts. The institute also plans a broad reconsideration of some of its aims and procedures.

The controversy centers on a grant of up to $18 million for drug development that spurred the resignation of CPRIT's chief scientific officer, Nobel laureate Alfred Gilman. He and CPRIT's scientific review council argued that MD Anderson's new drug discovery institute planned to do scientific research and should be evaluated by scientists. Last week, CPRIT and MD Anderson agreed to a rereview of the grant, but CPRIT said that because it was an incubator proposal, it would be reviewed by only business experts. Yesterday, however, CPRIT Executive Director William Gimson said in a statement: "The re-review of the IACS [Institute for Applied Cancer Science] proposal will entail a joint scientific and commercialization review." It's not clear whether reviewers will agree.

The UT system is also looking at whether the MD Anderson submission complied with university policies, according to the Houston Chronicle. The UT review will examine the potential for a conflict of interest, an issue critics raised because MD Anderson's president, Ronald DePinho, is married to Lynda Chin, the principal investigator on the grant.

CPRIT announced the formation of a statewide working group that will evaluate "future directions of its prevention, research and commercialization programs." It will examine the agency's review processes and how it sets priorities. The working group will meet later this month and will discuss recommendations at CPRIT's third annual conference in October.