While the election that is making most headlines is over a year away, this November has a constitutional amendment that will impact the future of cancer research in the state. On November 5, voters will get a chance to decide on a resolution that has pitted Empower Texas and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility against American Cancer Society, republican State Senator Angela Paxton and a number of pharmaceutical companies.
Proposition 6 reads, “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.” This month, McKesson hosted a presentation from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network to present the merits of state agency Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). CPRIT is the second largest funder of cancer research in the nation, and was created in 2007 by voters to invest $3 billion in cancer research and prevention in Texas.
Since its creation, CPRIT has invested $2.4 billion in 1,447 cancer research initiatives which have led to the detection of over 17,000 pre-cancers. CPRIT’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. James Wilson said that the investments have touched 108 organizations in 27 cities, 24 academic institutions, 38 community and other organizations, and 36 biotech companies. The organization has delivered 5.7 cancer prevention services to Texans in all 254 counties, detecting tens of thousands of cancers and pre-cancers statewide.
But the arguments made at McKesson also highlighted the economic benefit of CPRIT. North Texas Republican State Senator Angela Paxton spoke at the forum, highlighting the investment potential of CPRIT. “The health implications are clear, but it is an economic benefit as well,” she said. “It is actually an investment in the economic structure here. It’s not just handing out money, but it builds back into the economic structure. It is a win for a cancer-free future.”
CPRIT is often the first organization to fund a promising cancer research, which can spur further investment from private sources, proponents say. In 2018, CPRIT expended $300 million, which spurred $1.38 billion in expenditures in Texas, funding projects with annual employment of over 10,000. Annual expenditures add $719.8 million to Texas’ gross product, $499 million to personal income, and $189 million in retail sales, while adding $58 million to state and local taxes in 2018. Additionally, every dollar spent on prevention saved $25.75 in treatment and saves $1.94 in direct health spending, according to CPRIT data.
Here in Dallas, $452 million CPRIT grants were awarded to local institutions, attracting 66 researchers to the area. Three biotech companies were started, expanded, or brought to DFW with CPRIT investment, with $1.1 billion in local follow-up private investment for CPRIT companies.
CPRIT is “a critical first step for a lot of our funding,” says Dr. Keith Argenbright, Director of the UT Southwestern Medical Center Moncrief Cancer Institute. “They are critical in getting those first grants that lead to those larger grants.”
Despite the economic boons to Texas and Dallas, conservative group Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (who are currently embroiled in a quid pro quo, city-hating, controversy with the Texas Speaker of the House) is opposing the amendment. From their website: “While well-intentioned, CPRIT has not been a good steward of taxpayer dollars and cancer research is not a core function of government.” The amendment would double the size of the original bond and increase state debt, opponents argue. There are other pressing needs in the state, and because CPRIT is able to issue the rest of its original fund for a few years, and they say legislators should use this time to create a long term plan for CPRIT so that it can be self-sufficient.
Additional sponsors of the event included AbbVie Inc., Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Pfizer.
Early voting begins October 21.