Researchers record microscope findings. Photo by Scott Ball.
Proposition 6 would allow CPRIT to provide matching funds for cancer prevention and research. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In the recent Texas legislative session, the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to allow Texans to vote this November on Proposition 6, a bond issue to fund the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. 

Originally approved by voters in 2007 with a 61 percent margin, CPRIT provides matching funds to private companies who have raised their own funding for cancer prevention and research. This is not a hand-out – funding is awarded only to companies which have raised or devoted capital to existing programs through a rigorous process that includes legal, corporate, and academic professionals via a two-phase approval and grant process. 

CPRIT invests at a critical stage in the company’s lifecycle. The 36 companies in CPRIT’s portfolio have leveraged the data gained in CPRIT-supported preclinical and early-clinical trial phases to attract an additional $3.1 billion in external funding. 

Since its inception, CPRIT has awarded 1,447 grants totaling $2.4 billion to companies and institutions working on prevention and treatment of cancer across the state. CPRIT funding has recruited 181 cancer researchers and 13 companies to Texas, funded 159 childhood and adolescent cancer research projects, and enabled 5.7 million prevention services. While the primary purpose of CPRIT is to find cures and eventually eliminate cancer, it creates jobs, attracts talent to Texas, and enhances the amazing work already being done to fight cancer across Texas. 

As of this writing, CPRIT has funded 90 grants, worth over $126 million in San Antonio. These grants are paying for research into cancer detection and therapy, for education and outreach projects to help citizens improve their health outcomes, and to support companies starting in or moving to San Antonio to commercialize their cancer-fighting technologies.

UT Health Science Center at San Antonio has received six grants totaling $12 million  to recruit new, young tenure-track faculty. That talent is the life-blood of any research enterprise, and they become the leaders who build the future of medicine and medical enterprise.

Another grant of $150,000 went to an awareness and transportation campaign by South Texas Rural Health Services, which serves small communities located south and west of San Antonio. Early detection and awareness are absolutely vital to patents winning their personal battles with cancer.

Two San Antonio companies also received investment: Pelican Therapeutics, at $15 million, and NanoTx Therapeutics, at $2 million.  CPRIT approved a third San Antonio company, Emtora Biosciences, for a $3 million “seed” investment in August.

Previous CPRIT funding has resulted in new job creation, importing many of the best minds in cancer research to Texas, and preserving intellectual property in Texas, as opposed to moving to California or Boston, where there are other biotech hubs. CPRIT funding has also been an impetus for growth of companies such as Salarius Pharmaceuticals, which is developing groundbreaking science and treatments to target the epigenetic causes of cancer, particularly in pediatric cancer. 

Cancer impacts 100,000 of our family members, friends, colleagues, and others across the state every year. The encouraging news, however, is that there are more than 700,000 cancer survivors in Texas having gone through treatment in the past 20 years, because of improved detection, prevention, and treatment, the core of CPRIT’s mission.

Proposition 6 approval is endorsed by obvious organizations such as the Texas Medical Association and American Cancer Society, as you might expect, but also by business organizations such as the Texas Association of Business and the local chapters of the National Association of Corporate Directors. 

The business rationale for CPRIT is only surpassed by the medical and community benefits it fosters in the state in the treatment and prevention of this terrible disease that afflicts people of all ages, their families, and their employers. I encourage Rivard Report readers to learn more about Proposition 6, and then take the time to vote “yes” on November 5. Alternatively, early voting in Texas begins on October 21.

Harry Bushong is Founder and Managing Director of Convergence Ventures, a venture capital company in Houston devoted to supporting the development of biotechnology and life sciences.