Executives from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas were in Houston recently, updating the technology and life sciences community on the agency’s progress and future goals midway through its first year as a reformed institute.
“Will we cure cancer? I think we will,” said Wayne Roberts, CPRIT’s executive director. “I think we will do it in bits and pieces.”
Roberts was joined by other CPRIT senior officials in a meet-the-agency style event last Thursday at the Houston Technology Center’s office downtown. Margaret Kripke, CPRIT’s chief scientific officer, spoke about the agency’s efforts to support cancer research, including the recruiting of top scientists such as immunologist Jim Allison to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. And Rebecca Garcia, chief prevention and communications officer, spoke about the $96 million the agency has awarded in 115 grants for vaccine and anti-tobacco programs, as well as cancer screenings and efforts to help cancer survivors.
CPRIT was created in 2007 with a 10-year mandate to invest $3 billion in taxpayer money for cancer-related research, drug development, and prevention. But the agency came under legislative and criminal scrutiny in 2012 because of improperly allocated grants. After a yearlong hiatus and legislative reforms, the agency resumed operations last November.
Today, Roberts said, the agency’s available funding is “fully subscribed,” adding that only one in 10 applications received money. “It’s a very competitive process,” he said.
Agency officials are now involved in what he called a “program priorities project,” which will consider specific cancer targets to leverage the $300 million in biennial funds. “We don’t want to be a mini-(National Cancer Institute,)” he added.
Among those priorities could be an emphasis on orphan cancers, or cancers—such as those affecting the brain and pancreas—which have very poor prognoses.