- The Texas Workforce Commission announced that the state added 17,300 jobs in November 2009.
- The Department of Defense has awarded San Antonio’s Valero Marketing & Supply Co., a subsidiary of Valero Energy Corp., a contract worth up to $118 million to supply aviation fuel to the department’s Foreign Military Sales program.
- Round Rock’s Dell Inc. reported its third-quarter 2009 profits were down 54 percent compared with the same period in 2008.
- In November, the University of Texas at Austin announced its researchers had received 123 federal stimulus grants worth nearly $56 million.
Texas Against Cancer
In 2007, cancer cost nearly 37,000 Texans their lives – and drained almost $22 billion from the state economy. That was the year when Texans said “enough is enough.”
In November 2007, Texas voters authorized the Legislature to issue up to $3 billion in bonds by 2019 to support cancer researchers fighting the disease. The first installment of this war chest, $450 million, will be spent in fiscal 2010 and 2011.
Applicants have to convince a panel of distinguished scientists of their work’s value.
This new phase in the battle against cancer begins in early 2010, with the award of the first round of research grants.
Goals for Grants
The 2007 Legislature also created a new state agency, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), to administer this new funding and select grant recipients.
The bulk of funded grants will go to researchers identifying the causes of cancer and devising treatments. About $22 million annually will be reserved for prevention programs (see sidebar). A special funding stream called High Impact/High Risk (HIHR) grants will support innovative and exploratory projects.
Texas Cancer Facts
at a Glance
Cancer cost Texas $21.9 billion in 2007. The disease is the second most-common cause of death in Texas, and the most common among persons aged 75 years and younger.
In 2009, the Texas Department of State Health Services estimates that the state will see 97,847 new cancer cases and 37,285 cancer deaths.
Although cancer incidence and mortality rates are decreasing, the number of new cancer cases and deaths in Texas is increasing with the growth of the state’s population.
In 2006, about 429,000 Texans were living with cancer that was diagnosed between 1996 and 2005.
Source: Texas Department of State Health Services
All funding applicants will have to convince a panel of distinguished scientists of their work’s value, says CPRIT Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Alfred Gilman, a Nobel prizewinner.
Initial funding requests submitted to CPRIT are for Individual Investigator (II) research awards of up to $1 million annually for four years, and for HIHR grants of up to $200,000 over two years. A third category, Commercial Application grants, will be awarded to help bring cancer-fighting treatments to market.
A second wave of research grants will support multiple-investigator research projects, Gilman says. The application period for these grants will close March 1, 2010.
CPRIT funding also will be available to help attract world-class scientists to Texas.
“One of CPRIT’s most important missions is to recruit really top-notch scientists to the state,” says Gilman. “That will bring more grants, create jobs and help grow a biotechnology industry.”
Gilman says cancer research funding is money well spent, pointing to improved cancer survival and cure rates.
“When I started in my medical and scientific career, if kids developed acute leukemia, most of them died,” he says. “Now 80 to 90 percent of them get cured.”
Dr. Becky Garcia
Chief Prevention Officer,
Ounce of Prevention
The majority of the new Texas cancer funding will support the search for better treatments. But another focus is prevention. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is budgeting $22 million annually for grants supporting cancer prevention and outreach efforts in fiscal 2010 and 2011. That’s a sevenfold increase over previous prevention funding.
“One of the first requests for applications we released focuses on culturally appropriate health promotion, education and awareness of early detection and cancer prevention strategies,” says Dr. Becky Garcia, CPRIT’s chief prevention officer. “Another focuses on delivering evidence-based screening services for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers because we know those can really make a difference in cancer mortality rates.”
And the new prevention grants can be awarded for more than one year.
“Multiyear grants give the grantee enough time to deliver the program or service and see the impact,” says Garcia.
Prevention funding will be prioritized for the medically underserved and for underinsured and uninsured populations that have a high incidence of mortality from cancer, Garcia notes. That includes women aged 40 and older who have not had a mammogram within the past five years – or ever, in some cases.
Dr. Alfred Gilman,
Chief Scientific Officer,
Forefront of the Fight
CPRIT’s grants will substantially increase the amount of funding available for cancer research in Texas. The largest current pool of Texas cancer research funding – about $200 million annually – comes from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“CPRIT will fund more cancer research in Texas than NCI,” Gilman says.
And Texas is already home to the nation’s largest collective recipients of federal cancer funding, the physicians and scientists of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
“We spend in excess of $400 million per year on research,” says Wesley Harrott, M.D. Anderson’s executive director of research administration. “Because of the growing focus on research in the past 15 years, it has grown exponentially. Before that, M.D. Anderson was more focused on treatment and clinical activities.”
In 2008, M.D. Anderson received $113 million from NCI, more than half of the institute’s total allocation to Texas. Its researchers and affiliates submitted more than a third of all funding applications received for the first round of II, HIHR and Commercial Application awards.
The advent of new funding is very significant for Texas cancer researchers, Gilman and Harrott agree.
“There are so many aspects to cancer,” says Harrott. “You take those cell lines or that cancer, and you start doing research and try to identify what is driving it, what is causing it to activate. There are so many trials and errors in that process. It takes a lot of research effort to identify the root cause.
“That’s really the thing about the funding that is so important – there is a pent-up demand for funds,” he says. “There’s more knowledge and more things to research and not funds available.”
Counting the Cost
According to the Texas Department of State Health Service,
cancer cost Texans $21.9 billion in 2007.
|COST COMPONENT||All Cancer||Colorectal||Lung||Breast||Prostate|
|Nonprofits and foundations||$52.4|
* Includes costs due to illness, such as lost future productivity, benefits paid for unemployment caused by cancer, etc.
** Includes costs due to premature death, such as lost wages and benefits, etc.
Source: Texas Department of Health Services
Professor and Health Specialist,
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Cancer Education in Rural Texas
One organization that will receive a boost from new cancer research funding is the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, an agency within the Texas A&M System offering statewide cancer-related educational programs.
“Our specific target population is rural,” says Carol Rice, a professor and health specialist at the service. “We provide prevention education and early detection in rural communities.”
Extension agents around the state are trained to educate their community about skin cancer risks, particularly children attending farm safety camps, because rural residents engaged in agriculture typically spend a lot of time outdoors.
The service also focuses on smoking-related illness.
“I coordinate with the state health department for the Towards No Tobacco program, a best-practice program provided to children in elementary school,” Rice says. “Many of our children in rural Texas are at greater risk. Numbers show use of tobacco in rural communities is higher.”
Rice said CPRIT funding for 2010 will allow AgriLife Extension to hire four additional employees to help support its county agents’ efforts.
“Because of our presence in all our counties, they see us as a great way to get [health] information out,” she says. “During fiscal 2009, we provided more than 177,000 direct contacts regarding cancer prevention and early detection information through our county agents along with their local volunteers.”
At the end of the initial application period in October, CPRIT had received 767 applications for II grants, 114 for HIHR funding and 93 for Commercial Application grants.
Under CPRIT rules, individual researchers can apply for only one grant in each category. According to Harrott, this rule forced M.D. Anderson to choose among more than 600 suggested II applications from its faculty, finally selecting 301 as the strongest and most deserving.
“The institution has been looking forward to this. We’ve been having meetings on this for a year and a half,” Harrott says.
Competition for HIHR funding was even stiffer.
“We had 300 separate entries for the HIHR,” Harrott says. In the end, M.D. Anderson could submit only 20.
Seven committees selected for their expertise in different specialties will weigh the applications, says Gilman. The reviewers, all of them chosen from outside Texas, will debate their merits under the moderation of Nobel prizewinner and former MIT Cancer Center Chairman Dr. Philip Sharp.
After M.D. Anderson, Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine submitted the second-largest number of applications, at 142, while UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers in Dallas are seeking 83 grants.
The submitted applications “represent the full spectrum” of cancer research, says Gilman.
About a quarter of the applications are for clinical and experimental therapeutics, with a similar share for cell biology. About 23 percent are split between the fields of pathobiology and genetics and molecular biology. Almost a tenth of the applications are for research into cancer detection and diagnosis.
Gilman says he anticipates that 30 to 50 Individual Investigator applications will be funded in this first year of grants.
Information about research grant opportunities available through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is available on-line. The Texas Department of State Health Services maintains a detailed database of cancer statistics.
CPRIT grants will greatly increase cancer research in Texas.
More Patients, Better Care
M.D. Anderson’s stature as a cancer center draws people from around the world, a factor that should assist Texas’ new research efforts.
“We’re a leader in clinical trial activity,” Harrott says. “That’s one of the reasons people want to come to M.D. Anderson, for the latest technology and the latest knowledge. Folks want to be there because of the nature of the trials.”
This large pool of patients will make it easier for researchers to prepare and conduct trials of experimental treatments.
“We’re targeting a few things we’d really like to do, including a statewide clinical trials network,” Gilman says. “A statewide network could link patients and doctors, and you’d be bringing the latest and newest treatments throughout the state. They’d not just be available at the biggest cancer centers.
“Clinical trials could be conducted much more rapidly,” he says. “One of the problems is finding the patients, even with common forms of cancer.” And participation can benefit the patients as well as science.
“We know people who are in clinical trials are getting better care than those who are not,” Gilman says. FN
Text for Research Applications Submitted to CPRIT in 2009
There are three types of research applications submitted to CPRIT
- Individual Investigator (II) research awards of up to $1 million annually for four years
- High Impact/High Risk Research Awards (HIHR) of up to $200,000 annually for two years
- Grants for Commercial Applications
|Applicant||II Awards||HIHR Awards||Commerical |
|University of Houston System – Houston, Clear Lake||13||3||1|
|University of North Texas System – Denton, Fort Worth||16||4||1|
|Texas Tech University System – Lubbock||26||4||2|
|Texas A&M – College Station||35||8||1|
|Public and Private Companies – Statewide||27||20||39|
|Other Institutions (Including U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) – Houston (166), Other cities statewide (139)||164||28||19|
|University of Texas System (Including M.D. Anderson) – Houston (336), San Antonio (58), Other cities statewide (139)||486||47||30|
Source: Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas