Cancer-fighting agency adopts new ethics rules

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Associated Press

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Updated Sunday, Jan 26 at 12:02 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The board of Texas' cancer-fighting agency has approved a new code of conduct and ethics for members and employees in an effort to the restore credibility and confidence in awarding grants.

The rule changes approved Friday were based on a 2013 law designed to reform operations at the $3 billion Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. They are among the final pieces of an effort to fix an agency plagued by questions over how some taxpayer-funded grants had been awarded.

Reports and audits in 2012 and 2013 revealed that three awards totaling more than $56 million did not follow proper procedures, disclosures that led to the resignations of the agency's three top officials and a moratorium on grants that lasted 10 months.

The agency's former chief commercialization officer, Jerald "Jerry" Cobbs, was indicted in 2012 in Travis County on a charge of securing the execution of a document by deception related to an $11 million grant awarded in 2010.

Approved by voters statewide in 2007 and started in 2009, CPRIT controls the nation's second-largest pot of cancer funding behind only the federal National Institutes of Health, but the agency was dogged by missteps that led to investigations by prosecutors and lawmakers. Embarrassment for CPRIT mounted as a wave of top scientists from around the country severed ties with the agency.

The new rules were initially recommended in a state audit and later made mandatory under state law.

Major revisions include updated conflict of interest guidelines, rules on how grants are recommended, and an annual report posted on the agency's website of campaign contributions over $1,000 made by members of CPRIT's oversight committee. Those members are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House of Representatives.

The board also approved three grants totaling $6 million to supporting recruitment of thee tenure-track faculty members — two to Baylor College of Medicine and one to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

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