AUSTIN - Leadership of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) today held a press conference at the State Capitol to review progress in its prevention, academic research and product development research programs at the halfway point of the agency’s authorized funding.
CPRIT was launched in 2009 after Texas voters overwhelmingly committed $3 billion in the fight against cancer. To date, CPRIT has awarded 998 grants totaling $1,496,398,115. Tomorrow, the CPRIT Oversight Committee will make decisions expected to push the cumulative award total to more than $1.5 billion.
“Since we began awarding grants in 2010, we’ve taken Texas farther and faster in the fight against cancer,” said CPRIT Chief Executive Officer Wayne Roberts. “CPRIT has accelerated cancer research and prevention to get answers about cancer faster, push promising drugs into clinical trials sooner, and prevent cancer or detect it earlier.”
CPRIT funding has helped assemble a critical mass of expertise in cancer research in Texas, Roberts said. The agency’s academic research recruitment grants, at $334.1 million, have brought 110 top cancer scientists to Texas institutions. Recognizing that most of them will have careers extending out for 15 to 30 years, Roberts noted “we’ve already brought over 2,000 years of future research to Texas. They will be CPRIT’s legacy and Texas’ gift to the world.”
Roberts listed a number of other significant achievements at CPRIT’s halfway point, including:
- 2.8 million potentially life-saving cancer prevention services have been delivered to Texans in all 254 counties
- Nearly 5,600 patients are being treated in 84 CPRIT-funded clinical trials, giving hope to those who had none
- A CPRIT-funded discovery that could lead to a blood test for early detection of one type of cancer – before it’s too late.
- Cancer patients are being helped by new products developed by two CPRIT product development research grantees
- 4,700 direct jobs have been created and maintained
Dr. Jim Willson, CPRIT’s chief scientific officer, highlighted the work of two CPRIT scholar recruits at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. A discovery by Dr. Raghu Kalluri could lead to a simple blood test for early detection of pancreatic cancer and possibly other cancers, Willson said. Dr. Cassian Yee’s work in immunotherapy – considered the new frontier in cancer treatment – is headed into a clinical trial with support from Immatics, a CPRIT-funded product development research grantee.
Yee is so well-respected in his field that he was recently named to the leadership team of tech billionaire Sean Parker’s Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
“The opportunity for improving cancer care in Texas and the nation has never been greater because of rapid progress in research supported by CPRIT and being led by Texans,” Willson said. He pointed out that CPRIT has doubled the annual cancer research funding in Texas, and he said the agency is funding, among other things, dream teams of grantees focused on childhood, liver and lung cancers – all cancers of great importance to Texas.
“Our state is now considered a leader in childhood cancer research, and it’s because of CPRIT,” Willson said.
Another benefit of CPRIT funding? Prior to the agency, MD Anderson was the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Texas. Now there are three. Willson credited CPRIT recruitment and research grants for helping Simmons Cancer Center at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine achieve NCI top-tier status within the last year.
CPRIT has awarded 158 prevention grants totaling around $155.3 million. During her presentation, Dr. Becky Garcia, CPRIT’s chief prevention and communications officer, said grantees have delivered more than 1.3 million cancer education and 1.5 million clinical preventive services statewide, including:
- Screening & diagnostics for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer
- Prevention vaccinations
- Tobacco cessation services
- Genetic testing and counseling
- Survivorship services
Garcia singled out four-time CPRIT prevention grantee Dr. Keith Argenbright, director of the Moncrief Cancer Institute at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “His projects have reached 22 counties, many of which are rural and underserved counties, providing over 30,000 screening and diagnostics for breast and colorectal cancer, and thousands more education and navigation services for people who don’t have other options,” she said. Argenbright leveraged CPRIT funding to land another larger federal grant, which enabled Moncrief to acquire an 18-wheeler which it now uses as a mobile health clinic to extend the reach of its programs.
Texas has seen steadily declining mortality rates from cancer, which Garcia attributed to “the efforts of everyone across the state and the result of more prevention, early detection and better treatments.” Looking at where Texas was in 2008 compared to the latest data available in 2013 from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the cancer death rate has dropped 13 percent, translating to approximately 3,306 deaths averted.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we have a lot more work to do,” Garcia said. “It’s estimated that 50 percent of cancers can be prevented by applying broadly the prevention interventions that we have today and know that work."
CPRIT’s product development research program, which is directed by Mike Lang, has awarded 28 grants totaling just over $270 million and helped grow the biotech life sciences industry in Texas. While acknowledging that the typical drug development life cycle – from discovery to the doctor’s office – is 10-15 years and costs billions of dollars, Lang said the companies in CPRIT’s portfolio have so far generated $1.12 billion in venture capital follow-on funding. Two Austin-based CPRIT grantees have already moved products to the market to help cancer patients:
- Apollo Endosurgery developed a flexible endoscope that has been used in around 5,000 procedures to remove early stage cancer from the gastrointestinal tract, when it used to require major invasive surgery.
- Asuragen provides a kit and software to labs to help them identify the mutations driving a tumor. The information helps oncologists direct patients to targeted therapies. Asuragen has extended the approach to reveal clinically-relevant RNA and DNA changes in cancer.
Thirteen companies in CPRIT’s product development research portfolio currently have drugs in clinical trials, Lang said. One example is Mirna Therapeutics, which is using microRNA replacement therapy to help liver cancer patients. Another example is the partnership between NanoTx and Dr. Andrew Brenner of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Brenner, a CPRIT academic research grantee, found a way to radiate fat particles and inject them into glioblastomas – the deadliest of brain tumors – to kill them, but without damaging other areas of the brain.
Summing up, Roberts said: “Momentum is what CPRIT has at this halfway point. Texas is at the frontier of cancer science. It’s exciting to imagine what we can accomplish in the next five years.”
View CPRIT’s Halfway Point Achievements Report at www.cprit.texas.gov.
About the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas:
Beginning operations in 2009, CPRIT has to date awarded nearly $1.5 billion in grants to Texas researchers, institutions and organizations. CPRIT provides funding through its academic research, prevention and product development research programs. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached all 254 counties of the state, brought more than 100 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge, and provided more than 2.8 million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans. Learn more at www.cprit.texas.gov. Follow CPRIT on Twitter and like CPRIT on Facebook.