Richard Kolodner

Richard Kolodner

UC San Diego

New Beginning: Embattled Texas Cancer Institute Gets New Scientific Review Chair

Last Friday at its first meeting, the new oversight board of the reformed $3 billion Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) approved a new Scientific Review Council. The list, which includes top researchers such as cell biologist Tom Curran of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and epigenetics expert Peter Jones of the University of Southern California, suggests that the agency has regained the confidence of the scientific community after discord over funding practices prompted many reviewers to depart. The board also signaled its intention to make CPRIT interim Executive Director Wayne Roberts the agency’s permanent director.

Chairing the Scientific Review Council is Richard Kolodner, a cancer geneticist at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research’s University of California, San Diego, branch. He is the only one of eight council members who did not step down last year. He responded by e-mail to questions from ScienceInsider:

Q: Why did you agree to stay on with CPRIT?

R.K.: Because in this day of declining federal funding for cancer and biological sciences research in general coming on top of many years of slow degradation of individual NIH [National Institutes of Health] grant budgets, programs that provide significant funding are very important and need to be nurtured.

Q: Are you confident that last year’s problems won’t happen again?

R.K.: I think CPRIT has had some problems in the past, reassessed its leadership and procedures, and is ready to move forward with its mission.  It's too important in general and has many dividends it can pay, particularly in Texas, to just allow it to fail or fade away.  I have great confidence that [Chief Scientific Officer] Margaret Kripke will build on the tradition of excellence that [former Chief Scientific Officer] Al Gilman and [former Scientific Review Council Chair] Phil Sharp established and help CPRIT succeed and continue to fund excellent cancer research. … I can't guarantee there won't be problems in the future but the mission of solving the cancer problem for our population is much too important for us to not try and to not succeed.

Q: Will you be able attract the same caliber of reviewers? 

R.K.: I see no problem in getting high quality reviewers to serve on the panels.  Indeed, virtually all of the previous reviewers I have contacted have expressed a strong interest in participating as reviewers again.  Frankly I think it is attractive to review grants under circumstances where you know that most if not all of the worthy grants are likely to get funded.