Texas Investing $3 Billion in Cancer Research

Texas has passed legislation to invest $3 billion into cancer research and prevention over the next ten years. The staggering sum makes the Lone Star State the second-largest source of cancer research funding in the United States. Only the National Cancer Institute (NCI) doles out more dollars (last year NCI awarded $3.14 billion in grants; an additional $1.26 billion has been set aside through the federal stimulus bill).

The beginnings of the deal go back to 2007 and the creation of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. At the time, Texas Governor Rick Perry campaigned heavily to get Texans to vote for the package. The bill passed, and now the first wave of grants will be awarded next spring.

The money serves as a considerable boom to cancer researchers. Texas authorities say the money will be used largely for the development of new drugs, as well as high-risk research programs that have been turned away elsewhere.

The state also plans to use some of the money to attract leading scientists to Texas and to create the first statewide clinical trial network. $2 million alone has been set aside to pay for salaries and research for top researchers.

The money will serve to bolster Texas’ already considerable efforts in cancer research. The state serves as home for both the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and Lance Armstrong Foundation. One of the nation’s top cancer research facilities – the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston – is also located there.

In a time of significant economic downturn, some experts are worried that Texas won’t be able to deliver the projected funds. Dr. Tyler Curiel, executive director for the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, worries “that [the] $3 isn’t in the bank. What if the money isn’t going to be there in the future?”

Indeed, financial woes of the state have already hinted at potential problems down the line. Funding for the first two years is already $150 million short. However, officials believe the money will be recouped later in the program.

In relation to other state cancer initiatives, nothing comes close to Texas’ planned funding. California voters approved a $3 billion package to fund stem cell research, but court battles related to the ethics of such studies have so far stymied grant money.

Under the provisions of the program, $260 million will be devoted to cancer research for each of the ten years. An additional $30 million will go towards cancer prevention services annually.

While big hopes are being pinned on the grant money, major breakthroughs are likely not to occur in the near future. As Dr. Alfred Gilman, chief scientific officer for the Texas institute explains, ” (We’re) not going to bring new drugs to market during the first two years. Nor during the first four years.”

Still, though progress may be slow, researchers, oncologists and patients are hopeful that the huge influx of funding could one day lead to, as Republican Rick Perry puts it, a day when “we talk about cancer the same way we talk about polio.”