Views & Reviews Personal View

How politics trumped peer review at Texas cancer institute

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7334 (Published 15 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7334
  1. Charles J Sherr, chair, department of tumor cell biology, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis

Charles Sherr is one of nearly three dozen scientists who recently resigned from a publicly financed $3bn effort to spur innovative cancer research. In this personal view, he explains why

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), established by a constitutional amendment approved by Texas voters, authorized $3 billion over 10 years “to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention” (www.cprit.state.tx.us/about-cprit). A two tiered peer review group organized by chief scientific officer Al Gilman, a Nobel prize winner, included a council of seven members (chaired by an eighth member, Nobel winner Phil Sharp). CPRIT council members led committees that collectively included more than 100 expert cancer biologists, medical scientists, and physicians (all from institutions outside Texas) who were charged with reviewing proposals from Texas investigators.

The council and committee members critiqued a broad spectrum of applications, including individual investigator awards, multiple investigator awards, translational (bench to bedside) initiatives, training grants, pre-clinical and clinical trials, and high risk, early stage drug discovery. Reviewers were urged to apply only a single standard: does the application propose “groundbreaking” research likely to transform our understanding of cancer. In enlisting expert reviewers and leading one such committee (as a non-voting member), I was personally energized by the efforts of my 16 panelists who, without prejudice or conflict …

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