Web Date: November 9, 2007
Texas Supports Cancer Research Initiative
On Nov. 6, a majority of Texas voters approved a proposition to provide $3 billion in funding over 10 years for cancer research. The proposition will amend the state constitution and allow the legislature to authorize up to $300 million in bonds per year on behalf of a newly formed Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. The institute will then fund research grants and facilities, as well as prevention and control programs.
The Texas Cancer Council, a 20-year-old state agency based in Austin, will be reorganized into the institute. It will be able to make grants to public and private entities, medical research facilities, and educational institutions to fund research into the causes, cures, and treatments for cancer. Not more than 5% of the funds can be used for facility construction, and not more than 10% for prevention and control programs. Grant recipients will be required to find matching funds equal to at least one-half of their award. If leveraged in its entirety, total funding could reach $6 billion.
Supporters believe the new commitment will make Texas a leader in cancer research by building on the state's existing medical and research infrastructure. The funding is also expected to attract businesses and top researchers to the state. Along with Gov. Rick Perry, backers have included cyclist and Texas native Lance Armstrong, the American Cancer Society, and bipartisan supporters in the Texas House of Representatives.
BioHouston Chief Executive Office Jacqueline R. Northcut calls the commitment "a watershed point in the state's emergence as a life science center." The new funding, she says, "will help us to stimulate collaborations between universities, to take on new initiatives and approaches, and to support the training of future researchers and physicians." Many among BioHouston's more than 120 members and affiliates could benefit; academic and research institutions created the group in 2003 to establish the Houston area as a competitor in life sciences and biotechnology commercialization.
While considering cancer research worthwhile, many who opposed the proposition called it a risky move for the state. In a backgrounder provided by the Texas House, opponents commented that funding should take place at the national level and that research is best left in the hands of private organizations, not state governments. They also believe that Texas' research commitment is unlikely to have an impact, noting that it is dwarfed by the $4.7 billion the National Cancer Institute spent in 2006 alone, a sum that "has not led to a cure."
Similar initiatives have been approved or are in the making in other states. In 2004, California voters passed a proposition that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to dispense $3 billion over 10 years for human embryonic stem cell research. It wasn't until last month that California issued the first bonds. In July, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a $1 billion initiative to strengthen the life sciences industry in the state; the Massachusetts legislature held discussions on the proposal in late October.
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