Texas's innovative and controversial $3 billion effort to become a leader in cancer science may be luring top researchers to the state, but it's having trouble holding on to its own staff members. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced yesterday that Jerald S. Cobbs, its chief commercialization officer, plans to resign at the end of the month to return to the private sector. The move comes as CPRIT continues to come under fire for allegedly ignoring outside scientific advice when picking who receives grants to commercialize potential cancer therapies. Over the weekend, The Dallas Morning News published an investigation (free video summary, but article requires subscription) detailing political donations to Texas Governor Rick Perry and other state officials by various people associated with several firms that had received CPRIT commercialization grants totaling more than $22 million. Some of those grants came despite seemingly less than favorable reviews of the firm's proposals by CPRIT's scientific review council, the paper reported. All the members of that panel recently resigned, as have other out-of-state researchers who reviewed CPRIT grant proposals, with some of them expressing concern about the integrity of the agency's process for awarding grants.
Those resignations followed the departure of CPRIT's chief scientific officer, Nobel laureate Alfred Gilman, who resigned earlier this year in a dispute over a $20 million "incubator" grant given to scientists at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University, both in Houston. Cobbs oversaw the awarding of that grant, despite reservations expressed by Gilman and others. The Dallas Morning News notes that Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman (D), plans to introduce legislation to overhaul CPRIT. Coleman said he had "serious concerns" about CPRIT when it was created in 2007. "[M]y initial unease with the agency was justified," he told the newspaper.