State cancer institute under investigation


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 7:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 12 at 7:41 PM

Less than five years after its creation, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas finds itself at center of a criminal investigation.

This week, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg launched an investigation into the state institute after getting complaints that staff secretly approved $11 million in grants to Peloton Therapeutics out of Dallas two years ago.

"Bypassing all the processes that was set up for scientific review and any review at all," said Lehmberg talking about the allegations.

Reports of missing emails at the agency raised red flags too. "It doesn't take much to realize that when documentary evidence is gone, that something's up," explained Lehmberg.

The state's attorney general is also looking into this. The institutes's staff requested the investigation.

In a letter sent to the institute, the attorney general's office wrote "The OAG’s inquiry will review…any financial interest CPRIT staff or any other individual may have had in the Peloton grant award."

Its director, William Grimson, resigned. In a letter to board members, he wrote that "Unfortunately, I have been placed in a situation where I can [no] longer be effective. After considerable thought, and in hope that my fellow CPRIT workers will finally be able to get back to what is important, I hereby tender my resignation as CPRIT executive director."

Several years ago, Lance Armstrong and Governor Rick Perry lobbied to create the cancer research agency. In 2007, voters approved $3 billion in bonds to fund it.

The cancer institute declined KVUE's requests for an interview, but emailed KVUE that "CPRIT will cooperate fully with the attorney general's office and the Travis County District Attorney's Office on their investigations. There will be no further comment at this time."

The district attorney's office put the institute on notice, asking it to not throw away any potential evidence.

"We will look for emails. We will look for documents," said Lehmberg

In June, the state initiated an audit of the cancer institute. Its findings are expected in about a month. Count on KVUE News to keep following this story.