Building on the momentum launched by Texas voters 14 years ago and reauthorized by a decisive statewide vote in November 2019, CPRIT and its grantees advanced innovative research and prevention efforts across the state. Fiscal year 2021 marked a year of milestones, including its 250th CPRIT Scholar recruited to Texas, $300 million invested in prevention services, and the first CPRIT-funded drug approval.
CPRIT strives to generate the greatest possible benefit for Texans when awarding grants. The agency supports academic research, product development, and prevention projects that show great scientific promise, meet critical needs, and advance the state’s life science ecosystem. CPRIT’s investments help grantees build novel facilities, achieve scientific breakthroughs, reach clinical milestones, and detect cancers and cancer precursors earlier.
Over the last eleven years, CPRIT has invested $2.86 billion in Texas’ universities, enterprises, and organizations. CPRIT supports the cancer continuum from discovery to delivery, awarding more than 1,679 grants to academic research, product development, and prevention projects across Texas in 2021.
Texas Southern University Receives First Prevention Award
The Texas Southern University Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Center received a $1 million CPRIT grant (PP210049) in August 2021 to provide increased access to breast cancer screening for first time or rarely screened, uninsured or underinsured African American women across five counties.
Texas Cancer Registry selected to join the Seer Registry
In May 2021, the Texas Cancer Registry was awarded a new federal contract from the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program. The Texas Cancer Registry was one of only three states selected as a new NCI SEER-designated cancer registry, and will receive nearly $9 million over the next seven years.
First CPRIT-Funded Core Facility at Rice University
The Genetic Design and Engineering Center core facility at Rice, led by CPRIT Scholar Dr. Gang Bao, received a $4 million CPRIT grant in August 2021 (RP210116). The new resource will allow Texas researchers to deliver new therapies to patients at a much faster rate than is currently possible. This DNA manufacturing facility will be the first of its kind in Texas.
UTRGV Receives First CPRIT Award
CPRIT awarded The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley a $2.5 million grant (RP210180) to establish its Integrated Cancer Research Core to support cancer researchers at its School of Medicine. In the video, ICRC director Dr. Subhash Chauhan describes the importance of access to state-of-the-art research technologies to investigators in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.
SMU Receives First CPRIT Award
In August 2021, CPRIT approved a $250,000 High-Impact/High Risk Award (RP210068) to Southern Methodist University’s Zhihao Wu to study a promising novel approach to treat glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer without a cure.
CPRIT Awards First Texas Regional Excellence in Cancer (TREC) Awards
CPRIT’s first two TREC grants, awarded to The University of Texas at El Paso (RP210153) and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
(RP210154), underscore CPRIT’s commitment to investing in innovative cancer research in regions of Texas without a NCI-designated cancer center.
CPRIT’s $2.86 billion investment in 1,679 of the best ideas in cancer research, product development, and prevention has enhanced Texas’ role in the global fight against cancer. A snapshot of some notable research findings reported in fiscal year 2021, as well as other important milestones, awards and prestigious appointments, and prevention outreach, are shown below. Click on "View or Download All" to see all the information reported for the fiscal year.
CPRIT CEO Wayne Roberts appointed Dr. Michelle Le Beau to head CPRIT’s academic research program on September 14, 2021. Before joining CPRIT, Dr. Le Beau led the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center for 17 years. She is a distinguished cancer researcher, particularly in the study and treatment of hematological malignancies. Dr. Le Beau follows Dr. Jim Willson, who served as CPRIT’s Chief Scientific Officer since 2016. At Dr. Willson’s last Oversight Committee meeting in August 2021, several grantees, Oversight Committee members, and CPRIT staff honored his work in a video tribute. In addition to Dr. Le Beau, CPRIT added two new members to its executive staff – Chief Strategic Initiatives and Intellectual Property Officer Tracey Davies and Chief Due Diligence and Patent Officer Ken Smith.
The State Auditor’s Office completed a comprehensive audit of CPRIT’s grant management functions in September 2021, concluding that CPRIT has processes and related controls in place to help ensure that CPRIT reviews, awards, and monitors grants in accordance with state law, rules, and CPRIT policies and procedures.
CPRIT and its grantees witnessed several impressive highpoints in 2021. In the fiscal year that ended August 31, 2021, CPRIT recruited its 250th CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research to Texas and awarded grants that marked $300 million in support of evidence-based prevention, detection, and early intervention services across Texas over the past 11 years. Another landmark achieved in 2021 is the first CPRIT-funded drug to receive FDA approval.
Beginning with the very first grant approved by the Oversight Committee in November 2009, the CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research grant program helps academic institutions attract world-class scientists to Texas. Less than 12 years later, CPRIT met a milestone in August 2021 by successfully recruiting its 250th CPRIT Scholar to Texas.
This signature program gives the state an undisputed competitive edge in recruiting the most innovative minds in cancer research. The outstanding scientists, at all career stages, enhance programs of scientific excellence, advance cancer research, and promote economic development throughout the state. As of August 31, 2021, there are now 254 CPRIT Scholars at 21 institutions throughout the state. We feature some of 67 women recruited to Texas through the CPRIT Scholar program.
Suzanne Conzen, M.D.
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Established Investigator recruited to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center from the University of Chicago Medical Center in 2019
Dr. Conzen devotes her research to the role of cortisol in breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, with the goal of developing small-molecule therapies regulating cortisol’s harmful effects. She has several clinical trials evaluating cortisol modulators to treat breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Dr. Conzen says she was lured to Texas because CPRIT funding allowed her to explore questions that were limited under her federally funded grants.
Theresa A. Guise, MD
The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Established Investigator recruited to The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019
Dr. Guise has made seminal contributions to the scientific community’s understanding of cancer effects on the musculoskeletal system. Her laboratory studies the systemic effects of pathologic bone destruction, due to cancer and cancer treatment, on muscle (skeletal and cardiac) function, diabetes and metabolism and cognitive function to devise ways to protect bone strength.
Klementina Fon Tacer, DVM, Ph.D.
Texas Tech University
First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member recruited to Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine from the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in 2020
Early in her research career, Dr. Fon Tacer began to untangle the secret function of proteins normally expressed by male germ cells that can get hijacked by cancer. These genes, called cancer-testis antigens, are at the core of her current research program. Understanding the molecular underpinnings will be crucial for developing better protective strategies for immature sperm in children.
Megan Whisenant, Ph.D., APRN
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
First-Time, Tenure Track Faculty Member recruited to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 2020
As an early-stage investigator and using her experience in clinical practice as an oncology nurse, the resources provided by CPRIT allowed Dr. Whisenant to launch a program of multi-site clinical research studies focused on improving the quality of life for women across the breast cancer care continuum, from prevention through survivorship.
Piya Ghose, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Arlington
First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member recruited to The University of Texas at Arlington from Rutgers University in 2019
Dr. Ghose’s work focuses on a type of cell death where complex cells are killed in a tripartite fashion, which she has named Compartmentalized Cell Elimination or CCE. With the CPRIT recruitment award, Dr. Ghose purchased state-of-the-art equipment, including a confocal microscope for advanced imaging, for her research lab at UT Arlington. Dr. Ghose recently received an NIH Outstanding Investigator Award based on her work.
Liela Romero, Ph.D.
First-Time, Tenure Track Faculty Member recruited to Baylor University from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2020
Dr. Romero develops new catalytic chemical reactions that will be broadly applicable to the expediated preparation of drug-like molecules. Her lab is already applying these new methods toward the synthesis and study of bioactive natural compounds that have a history of anti-cancer activity. This work will lead to a better understanding of how small molecules inhibit the growth and spread of certain cancer types.
Tian Zhang, M.D.
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Rising Star recruited to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center from Duke University in 2021
Dr. Zhang is a recognized expert in the management of renal cell cancer and a leader in research designed to answer biological and clinical questions through translational methods. She is overseeing a phase 3 clinical trial for renal cell carcinoma and designing correlative studies and innovative trials in genitourinary malignancies.
Lauren I. R. Ehrlich, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member recruited to The University of Texas at Austin from Stanford University in 2010
Dr. Ehrlich holds the distinction as the first woman recruited to Texas through the CPRIT Scholar program. Her lab studies the cellular and molecular interactions between developing thymocytes and surrounding stromal cells in the thymus that promote generation of diverse, self-tolerant, and non-malignant T cells. In her video, Dr. Ehrlich explains why she came to Texas and the impact of CPRIT funding on her work over the past decade.
S. Gail Eckhardt, M.D., FASCO
The University of Texas at Austin
Established Investigator recruited to The University of Texas at Austin from the University of Colorado in 2016
Re-envisioning cancer care with the patient at the center is Dr. Gail Eckhardt’s mission as the inaugural director of the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. A physician-scientist, she is internationally recognized as a leader in collaborative preclinical and early clinical translational cancer research.
Xiaoli Sun, M.D., Ph.D.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
First-Time, Tenure Track Faculty Member recruited to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio from the University of California San Diego in 2020
Dr. Sun is interested in understanding the pathogenesis of chronic diseases, including metabolic diseases and liver cancer. Her lab analyzes human samples and employs genetically engineered mouse models to study disease initiation and progression. In her video, she describes the work she is doing to find treatments and cures for liver cancer.
Khuloud Jaqaman, Ph.D
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
First-Time, Tenure Track Faculty Member recruited to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center from Harvard Medical School in 2012
Dr. Jaqaman studies the ability of cancer cells to form new blood vessels to supply their increasing needs. Understanding this process, called angiogenesis, can lead to discovering ways to inhibit tumor growth and making drug delivery more efficient. In the video, Dr. Jaqaman explains her groundbreaking work.
CPRIT awards ten percent of its grant funds every year to programs throughout the state that seek to prevent cancer or detect it early in medically underserved patient populations and rural parts of Texas. In 2021, CPRIT’s investment in preventing cancer reached $300 million. Two examples of the 258 innovative prevention projects CPRIT funded since 2010 are shown below.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial/ethnic groups in Texas and cancer is the leading cause of death among Asian Americans. The Light and Salt Association provides quality health education, cancer screening, and survivorship support to Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino families in Houston and Austin. With CPRIT grant funding, the Light and Salt Association tackles cancer disparities in Asian American communities, focusing on colon, breast, cervical and liver cancer.
More people die of lung cancer than any other cancer in the U.S., accounting for 1 in 4 cancer deaths. Harris County has more lung cancer-related deaths among people over 35 years old than any other county in Texas. Dr. Zoorob’s CPRIT-funded program uses a newly approved technology to detect early-stage lung cancer among predominantly underserved populations within Harris County. By combining the screening with smoking cessation services, the project is increasing the number of people surviving lung cancer and preventing future cases. Based on the success of Dr. Zoorob’s project, CPRIT awarded a $2 million grant in August 2021 to expand the project to Polk and San Jacinto counties. Both are rural, medically underserved counties hard-hit by lung cancer.
On August 13, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a first-in-kind drug called belzutifan as a treatment for hereditary kidney cancer, marking an exciting milestone as the first CPRIT-funded drug to receive regulatory approval. Belzutifan treats cancers associated with a rare genetic condition called Van Hippel-Lindau disease, including renal cell carcinoma, central nervous system hemangioblastomas, and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. The drug is also in clinical trials for solid tumors, biliary cancer, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer.
Product development is a lengthy process. After discovery, it takes a new cancer drug 10 – 15 years to reach the market. In 2010, CPRIT awarded a $3.2 million Product Development Research award (R1009) to Peloton Therapeutics for developing treatments based on discoveries made by researchers at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After acquiring Peloton for $2.2 billion in 2019, Merck & Co. Inc. continued clinical development of belzutifan, sponsoring the drug through FDA approval.
CPRIT’s investment in the initial company work that led to this breakthrough drug has not only supported Texas’ fight against cancer but has also bolstered the oncology sector of the state’s life science ecosystem.