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Texas Cancer Agency Probe Clears Officials

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AUSTIN (AP) - Criminal prosecutors investigating a troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting effort in Texas have cleared current state officials and board members with the agency, a spokesman for the board chairman said Tuesday.

No mention was made of former executives who resigned in recent months, and prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Travis County district attorney’s office last month opened a case into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas after the embattled agency revealed giving $11 million in taxpayer funds to a private company without a required independent review.

A spokesman for Jimmy Mansour, chairman of the agency’s governing board, said investigators told Mansour last week that many surrounding the agency had been cleared.

“(Mansour) was assured that CPRIT, as an organization, and all current board members, are free from suspicion in the ongoing CPRIT investigation. Mr. Mansour is pleased that this cloud has lifted,” Austin lobbyist Bill Miller said.

Gregg Cox, a Travis County prosecutor who oversees the public integrity unit investigating the agency, was not in the office Tuesday. A phone message was not immediately returned.

Miller’s statement did not address the agency’s former leadership in charge when the grant to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics was wrongfully approved in 2010. They include executive director Bill Gimson, chief commercialization officer Jerry Cobbs and chief scientific officer Alfred Gilman. None have been accused of wrongdoing.

Gimson resigned in December after yearlong turmoil within the agency peaked with the disclosure of the Peloton grant. Cobbs resigned in November and Gilman stepped down in May after clashing with Gimson on the direction of the agency, which included Gilman making accusations of politics trumping science when it came to decisions on grant awards.

Months of upheaval have put CPRIT at a standstill. Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders called for a moratorium on new grants until confidence in the agency is restored, and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have lined up to blast CPRIT in the first weeks of a new legislative session.

Among the more significant moves is CPRIT currently being frozen out of the state budget draft currently on the table for 2014-15. CPRIT oversees the second-biggest trough of cancer research dollars in the country after the federal National Institutes of Health.

Mansour reiterated that “CPRIT will continue to work closely with investigators and the Legislature to bring this to a close,” Miller said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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