Major pharmaceutical firms and individuals linked to companies that have benefited from a $3 billion cancer-fighting Texas agency under criminal investigation are among the financial contributors to a nonprofit formed to support the embattled state institute, according to a list of donors released Thursday.
Lawmakers and reporters had sought the identity of CPRIT Foundation donors in wake of the recent turmoil surrounding the state-run Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Foundation board members had been reluctant to release the list, saying they wanted to protect their donors from being solicited.
The CPRIT Foundation supplemented the salary of agency executives and helped pay for annual meetings and conferences.
"In light of recent developments associated with the institute, we believe it is appropriate to make this information publicly available at this time," said Marc Palazzo, a foundation spokesman.
The donors include drug developers including Eisai Inc. ($200,000), Pfizer Inc. ($160,000), Novartis Pharmaceuticals ($235,000) and Amgen ($35,000).
Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, who had sought the list through open record laws and has called on Republican Gov. Rick Perry to make the beleaguered agency an emergency item of the current legislative session, said she had not yet scrutinized the donors but said it raised red flags.
"It's important that we work to connect the dots that might possibly exist between contributions and the awarding of grants," Davis said. "But the list itself certainly indicates some issues that need to be addressed."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also contributed $1,000 to the foundation in November, when CPRIT appeared to be emerging from months of controversy before a bombshell later that month that put the agency at a standstill — CPRIT disclosed that $11 million in taxpayer funds were awarded to a Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, even though the biotech startup never had its application scrutinized or independently reviewed.
The fallout led to the resignation of the agency's executive director and chief commercialization officer, who submitted Peloton's proposal for approval. Prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the agency soon afterward, and CPRIT is now under an indefinite moratorium from handing out any more funds.
Dallas-based Mary Crowley Cancer Foundation donated $35,000 in 2009. Its founder is the grandmother of David Shanahan, a prominent political donor and businessman who founded Gradalis Inc., which in 2010 received nearly $750,000 in funding from CPRIT.
Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and spokesman for Shanahan, said there was no connection between the donation and the Gradalis award. Shanahan has served as president of the Crowley Foundation, and Miller said the donation was consistent with others made to similar cancer-fighting and research efforts.
Miller added that the state funding to Gradalis was not directly obtained through the agency, but instead was in tandem with a research award to Baylor College of Medicine. He said Gradalis has applied directly to funding from CPRIT but has never been successful.
"He was absolutely involved (with the donation) and he was happy to do so," Miller said. "$35,000 is just a drop in the bucket to what they do."
Shanahan also has ties to Caliber Biotherapeutics, which received a $12.8 million grant in 2011. Miller said Shanahan only has a "small stake" in Caliber and has no title with the company.
CPRIT debuted in 2009 to widespread acclaim. The state-run agency is home to the nation's second largest pot of cancer-research money, behind only the National Institutes of Health, and has awarded more than $800 million.
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