Advocates rally at Capitol for cancer research/services funding

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas — infrastructure for research and cancer fighting services — will end after this state budget unless authorized by the Texas legislature and approved by Texas voters. 

Around 150 advocates for the American Cancer Society walked the halls to the state Capitol Tuesday to convince lawmakers to support CPRIT for ten more years. 

The Texas capitol can be loud, hectic, and crowded. At this time during the legislative session lobbyists and advocates walk the halls to push their cause.  For Jackie Bush, her cause is personal. 

She’s been fighting breast cancer since 2002 and it just came back, for the fourth time. 

“I want to be around for a long time. I have little baby grand kids and I want to see them grow up. I don’t want them to hear that they have cancer,” said Bush.

Tuesday, she chose to be in the capitol corridors instead of in a doctor’s office for day one of another round of chemotherapy. She says CPRIT funded the immunotherapy research that saved her eyes when the cancer spread there. 

“I still have my sight in the my eye because of that. So it’s very important for us to make sure that this research continues on,” said Bush, hoping the money continues for the next generation.

Since the agency started a decade ago, 170 cancer researchers have moved to Texas, says Gray.

“There are a lot of important issues in this building. We are really trying to make sure this stays a priority and competes with these other really important issues. And we know it does,” said Gray.

14,000 people in Texas are in trials funded through the agency, says James Gray, the Government Relations Director from the American Cancer Society. 

CPRIT will end after this next budget cycle in 2022 unless lawmakers decide to continue it. Not only must lawmakers reauthorize CPRIT for the next ten years, they also must pay for it this year.

The two top budget writers are Chair of Senate Finance, Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Chair of House Appropriations, John Zerwas, R-Richmond. Both support CPRIT. The House puts $600 million toward it this budget. The Senate, more than $430 million, which is the amount remaining from what voters approved ten years ago. 

Rep. Zerwas is carrying the bill to reauthorize it for another decade, by taking out $3 billion in bonds. Sen. Nelson wants the legislature this session to look at how much it funds the program and how it should going forward. 

Lawmakers will look over the details carefully because grants haven’t always gone smoothly through CPRIT. 

In 2012, an oversight committee disclosed that CPRIT had approved 11 million dollars in grants to Peloton Therapuetics without a proper review. The agency’s grant-making powers were temporarily suspended. After that, some lawmakers pushed legislation to reduce financial assistance from the state. That legislation did not pass.

Lawmakers must pass this year’s budget by the end of May. 

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