AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday at the Capitol, the Oversight Committee of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas approved $89 million in awards for cancer research, prevention and product development.
The institute was established in 2007 when the state legislature agreed to pump $3 billion in taxpayer dollars into the program. In 2017, Texas voters approved another $3 billion to go toward the cause, totaling $6 billion over the course of 20 years.
Dr. Mahendra Patel, CPRIT’s presiding chair, explained Wednesday over the last several years, the academic infrastructure for the institute has been well established.
“I do believe that we have created an infrastructure, at the current time where we’ve built the academic side of it. And the academic side by nature lends itself into the production side. That is translating from the bench to the patient. So we’ve moved along our pathway, keeping the importance for the academic still, because that’s vitally important,” Dr. Patel said.
The funding approved Wednesday includes three new recruitment grants and a slate of nine prevention programs across the state.
“The prevention side of it is very, very important. The number of cases of breast cancer, colon cancer, cervical cancer, which have been found in the early stages have been cured. It’s immeasurable,” Patel said.
Wednesday’s vote also awarded $64 million in product development grants to nine Texas companies developing new cancer products, drugs, or therapies.
Austin-based Atom Mines will use its CPRIT product development research grant to utilize technology developed at The University of Texas at Austin to produce Ytterbium-176, a medical isotope needed for cutting-edge cancer drugs and therapies around the world.
It’s currently critical to research domestic production, because right now, the isotope is only available in limited quantities from Russia.
Patel explained to look at the success of cancer research over the last several decades, look at statistics from the past.
“In the pediatric cancer world at one time, if you had leukemia, and one of the most common cancers that you see in the pediatric population, defined as less than 26 years of age, the likelihood of surviving greater than six weeks, 0%, was just about 40 years ago. If you look at it, now, we reached 90 to 98% cure rate. That is even better than curing the common cold, let alone COVID-19,” Dr. Patel explained.
“What CPRIT has done … is we’re looking at cancer and seeing that cancer is composed of multiple elements in terms of the cancer itself, in the microenvironment, the immune system, the environment.”
In terms of a cure for every cancer, Patel said we’re still years away from that. But he’s hoping research and work done through CPRIT will help achieve something close to that in the next decade.
“We’re still on the way to achieving that dream. But there’s a fair number where we will have cure rates going well into the 70s and 80%, whereas now it’s in the 20s and 30%. Broadly speaking, I think we are well are on our way to achieving that in the next 10 to 20 years’ time,” Dr. Patel said.