AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) - The state's top elected officials on Wednesday called for a moratorium on grants handed out by the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
The institute was founded in 2009 with an unprecedented $3 billion in state money and promises of cancer breakthroughs. But a criminal investigation, widespread rebuke from scientists and the resignations of agency officials amid suggestions of politics and personal profit have come faster than medical discoveries.
Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to the agency's oversight committee, calling on the agency to address concerns that have been raised about its organization before any future grants are awarded.
"The mission of defeating cancer is too important to be derailed by inadequate processes and a lack of oversight," the letter says. "It is important that we restore the confidence of the Texas taxpayers who approved this important initiative before new funds are dispersed."
Meanwhile, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth said she will file legislation to reform oversight of the agency.
Davis saif procedures at the institute need immediate legislative attention. She says among them are better evaluation of grant procedures and assessments of private donations that supplement salaries of agency employees.
Oversight committee Chairman Jimmy Mansour and Vice Chairman Joseph Bailes quickly embraced the request from Perry, Dewhurst and Straus.
"These issues need to be resolved to restore public confidence in CPRIT," they said in a joint statement.
The letter comes a week after the agency's executive director offered his resignation and the state's chief public corruption prosecutor announced an investigation into the beleaguered agency. The federal National Cancer Institute — which has conferred on CPRIT the prominent status of being an approved funding entity — also said last week that it was evaluating "recent events" at the state agency.
The reviews began after CPRIT disclosed that an $11 million grant to a private company had bypassed review.
The award to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, a biomedical startup, marked the second time this year that a lucrative taxpayer-funded grant authorized by CPRIT instigated backlash and raised questions about oversight. The first involved the $20 million grant to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that CPRIT's former chief science officer, Nobel laureate Dr. Alfred Gilman, described as a thin proposal that should have first been scrutinized by an outside panel of scientific peer-reviewers, even though none was required under the agency's rules.
Dozens of the nation's top scientists agreed. They resigned en masse from the agency's peer-review panels along with Gilman. Some accused the agency of "hucksterism" and charting a politically-driven path that was putting commercial product-development above science
More than 100 trees covered in lights now shine bright throughout Zilker Park. The Trail of Lights is open for another season.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside of a vehicle which lost control during the icy conditions, DPS said.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg heads to court this week as a defendant in a civil trial that could oust her from office.
Santa visited Austin early on Sunday, joining hundreds of motorcyclists for their annual Toy Run.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
Austin Police confirm they have located an 82-year-old women who went missing last night.