Texas Biotech Leaders Doubt CPRIT Will Get Its Groove Back

1/24/14Follow @angelashah

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he was concerned that sitting in a holding pattern would impair Beta Cat’s ability to move forward with either plans for a clinical trial or to court other investors. For a biotech startup, both time and money are in short supply, he added.

Since then, Northrup says, Beta Cat has reapplied for a CPRIT grant. “We remain hopeful and, we will see when all the cutting is done, who might be left,” Northrup added. “My observation would be that the new management of CPRIT is working very hard to show the world that the program can be successful and we are very pleased with the new activity.”

Others are less optimistic. “I originally thought CPRIT was the biggest blessing we’ve ever had and then it became the curse of biotech in Texas,” says Michael Redman, CEO of Oncolix in Houston.

Oncolix, which is developing a drug to treat ovarian cancer, has received investments from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund as well as orphan status from the FDA and clearance to start testing its drug in the first phase of human clinical trials. But its application to CPRIT was one of several startups whose applications were withdrawn by the agency following the moratorium last year. Its first attempt at securing $12 million in funding was rejected in a process that Redman says was full of erroneous assumptions by the evaluating committee. “We were not even allowed to respond,” he says.

Still, Redman says he and his partners, hopeful that the agency is back on track, have been preparing to respond to CPRIT’s latest request for proposals. Last week, however, he received an e-mail from the agency stating that Oncolix was ineligible to apply since it had already submitted two applications. But a letter the company received from the agency last April stated that the “withdrawn application does not count towards the application submission limit.”

“We were told it wasn’t going to count; now it does,” Redman says. “The deadline is coming and we don’t know what to do. We were planning on submitting; we spent a lot of resources on this only to be told at the 11th hour” of the ineligibility.

For Redman, the inconsistent messages at least display a level of carelessness that doesn’t spur confidence among life sciences entrepreneurs that the agency is serious about commercialization.

A CPRIT spokeswoman says that the agency can’t comment on specific cases.

Looking Ahead

In our interview, Roberts says … Next Page »

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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  • Frank Grassler

    Angela, did you confront Roberts with the Oncolix problem of inconsistent treatment of their second application?

    • http://www.xconomy.com/texas Angela Shah

      Hi Frank. I did ask him about concerns from many entrepreneurs about the review process. CPRIT would not get into specific company applications.