Travis County DA investigating Texas cancer agency - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Travis County DA investigating Texas cancer agency

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By PAUL J. WEBER

Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The Texas prosecutor responsible for investigating public corruption among state officials said Tuesday that he has opened an investigation into the state's troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency.

Gregg Cox, director of the Travis County district attorney's public integrity unit, told The Associated Press that an investigation has begun into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The agency also is under investigation by the Texas attorney general's office after an $11 million grant to a private company did not receive the proper review.

Cox said his unit, which prosecutes crimes related to the operation of state government, is beginning its investigation not knowing "what, if any, crime occurred" at CPRIT.

His announcement came on the same day that CPRIT said its executive director had submitted his resignation letter and amid escalating scrutiny over the management of the nation's second-biggest pot of cancer research dollars.

CPRIT has not been able to focus on fighting the disease due to "wasted efforts expended in low value activities" during the past tumultuous eight months, Executive Director Bill Gimson wrote in a resignation letter dated Monday. Gimson offered to stay on until January, and the agency's board must still approve his request to step down.

Gimson has led the state agency since it launched in 2009. But he fell under mounting criticism over the recent disclosure that an $11 million award to a private company was never reviewed. It was the second time this year that a lucrative taxpayer-funded grant instigated backlash and raised questions about oversight.

"Unfortunately, I have also been placed in a situation where I feel I can no longer be effective," Gimson wrote.

The Texas attorney general's office has said it is looking into CPRIT's $11 million grant to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics. An internal audit performed by the agency revealed that Peloton's proposal was approved for funding in 2010 without being reviewed by an outside panel.

Gimson said last week that Peloton's funding was the result of an honest mistake that happened when the agency was still young and in the process of installing checks and balances. Agency emails surrounding the Peloton grant are no longer available, Gimson said, and state investigators said they will work to find them.

Only the National Institutes of Health doles out more cancer research dollars than CPRIT, which has awarded more than $700 million so far. The agency's former chief science officer, Nobel laureate Alfred Gilman, resigned earlier this year over a separate $20 million award that Gilman claimed received a thin review. That led some of the nation's top scientists to accuse the agency of charting a politically-driven path.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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