Tim Green

University officials are still unsure of how proposed funding cuts to a troubled state agency would affect the $30 million to $40 million in cancer research grants it has recieved from the agency.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency formed by a constitutional amendment in 2007 for the purpose of issuing $3 billion in bonds for cancer research funds, is currently under investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Travis County District Attorney’s office for how it approved and distributed grants. The Texas Legislative Budget Board recommended cutting all state funds to CPRIT for the 2014-15 biennium while lawmakers sort out how CPRIT made its decisions.

UT and CPRIT have different numbers for the amount of money the agency has allocated to the University in grant funds, and neither institution was able to explain the discrepancy.

Green said UT has been awarded $29.3 million by CPRIT so far, while the agency’s website states CPRIT has granted $38.4 million to UT since 2010. The page lists individual grants awarded by CPRIT. 

CPRIT information specialist Ellen Read said financial employees at the agency do not know why there is a discrepancy, but that they believe the agency granted $37.9 million to UT-Austin, not $38.4 million.

Tim Green, spokesman for the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, said he does not know what effect the potential cuts would have on cancer research projects at the University.

“At this point, we aren’t sure what the impact of a cutoff of funding would be,” Green said.

CPRIT awarded Tanya Paull, molecular genetics and microbiology professor, two grants to conduct cancer-related research in 2010 and 2011.

Paull said she does not know if her grants, which total about $1.6 million, would be affected because she does not know if CPRIT’s current situation will impact grants that have already been contracted.

She said she believes CPRIT can still deliver on its mission despite the turmoil surrounding the agency.

“If they can fix the oversight issue, there’s still a lot of good that the program can do,” Paull said.

A January report by the State Auditor’s office revealed that three members of CPRIT’s executive team had offices located on campuses of higher education institutions that received grants from the agency. The office also found that three grants, two involving the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, failed to follow state law and the agency’s own procedures for approving grants. 

Members of the Legislature are considering reforms to the agency. State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and state Rep. James Keffer, R-Eastland, have each filed legislation that would require CPRIT to implement certain changes to its practices, including publishing an annual report that outlines its process for awarding grants, the dollar amount of grants awarded that year and the recipients of those grants.

At a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday, Nelson said she hopes to prevent individuals within CPRIT from taking “egregious liberties” with policy determined by the Legislature.

“I am disappointed. I am angry but I am also determined to prevent the poor judgment of a few to derail the hopes of millions of Texans suffering directly or, through a loved one, indirectly from this disease,” Nelson said.