Monday, April 8, 2013

CPRIT Can Emerge Stronger

By John Mendelsohn, MD

As someone who has devoted nearly 50 years - my entire professional life - to defeating cancer, I was overjoyed when voters in 2007 created the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). As Texans have so many times in our history, we banded together to fight a common enemy - this time, cancer.

Charged with awarding $3 billion in grants over 10 years, CPRIT became the second-largest funder of cancer research in the country, behind the National Cancer Institute. It bolstered Texas' reputation as a leader in the cancer field, enabled recruitment of distinguished scientists to Texas, supported creation of new biomedical commercial enterprises, and funded peer-reviewed innovative research projects at our universities.

Like almost any new and innovative organization working to gain traction in pursuit of its mission, CPRIT stumbled along the way. The organization learned important lessons from these administrative missteps, and it can emerge stronger. Among the tough - but valuable - lessons CPRIT learned was that, as a state agency entrusted with spending tax dollars wisely and responsibly, its guidelines and policies and all of its actions must be totally transparent and beyond reproach.

In recent weeks it appears that CPRIT is moving in the right direction. The new CPRIT leadership has taken important steps to restore public and Legislative confidence by implementing new procedures and safeguards. In addition, Texas lawmakers are pursuing a host of reforms to this vital program.

CPRIT has accomplished much that we can be proud of. The many successful programs that this state agency has funded make us the envy of the other 49 states.

I hope that our elected officials - a number of whom are cancer survivors themselves - are convinced that this noble and novel investment in the fight against cancer is worthwhile and should continue. I hope that our legislators reactivate CPRIT so it can continue its mission to make Texas an even greater world-class center for cancer prevention, care and research.

I am encouraged that the state's top elected leaders have authorized CPRIT to move forward on 25 awards to bring additional renowned cancer researchers to Texas. These recruitment awards and a number of new research and prevention grants were approved by CPRIT last year but put on hold as CPRIT underwent review.

I hope the remaining frozen grants for research and for cancer prevention and early detection services, such as breast cancer screening, will be eligible for activation soon so that more Texans can be screened, diagnosed and better treated for cancer.

Since I earned my medical degree in 1963, I've seen what a difference funded research has made in the way cancer has been prevented, diagnosed early and treated more effectively. CPRIT could deliver new cures, or it could help us detect cancer earlier, treat it with less pain and turn more cancer patients into cancer survivors.

All of these outcomes would be tremendous progress. They will happen for more Texans if we save CPRIT and continue to fund its mission.

Mendelsohn is past president of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and currently directs the center's Khalifa Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy.

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