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Biotech firm credits CPRIT funds for experimental cancer-fighting drug

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TWC News: Biotech firm credits CPRIT funds for experimental cancer-fighting drug
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A 100-page report by the state auditor made public Monday slams the Cancer Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, with details of internal rule violations, misappropriated funds and grant applications not receiving proper scientific review.

For now, all CPRIT grants have been put on hold at the direction of the governor's office. Following news of the State Audit report, a $25 Million CPRIT grant recipient shut down operations, causing 30 people to lose their job.

The audit is critical of how Statewide Clinical Trials Network of Texas was spending large portions of the grant.

The report is evidence of an ongoing statewide investigation of the five-year-old state agency. Widely celebrated upon being approved by Texas voters in 2007, CPRIT is now under criminal investigation after spending much of the past year in turmoil over questions surrounding several lucrative awards.

But scientists at local biotech research company Mirna Therapeutics says the CPRIT multimillion dollar grant it received is helping its battle against cancer.

The state’s Emerging Technology Fund gave $5 million to what scientists at the Mirna Therapeutics research lab call ‘pioneering research.’

The embattled CPRIT added another $10.3 million.

Mirna Therapeutics CEO Dr. Paul Lammers says the $15 million worth of public dollars has done its part inside his lab.

"Oh, absolutely vital, because it is very difficult time right now for funding in biotech," he said."Developing a new medicine, a new drug, doesn't matter if it's for cancer or for hypertension or diabetes, it is a long exercise.”

Scientists at Mirna have successfully created an experimental cocktail called the MRX34, which contains the mimic of a tumor suppressor called the miR-34. The miR-34 mimic can inhibit the growth of tumors related to lymphoma, liver, lung and prostate cancer. The drug is currently on its way to the U.S. Food Drug and Administration for clinical testing.

Lammers says the tumor suppressor wouldn’t have been created if it wasn’t for help from CPRIT funds.

“Beginning in 2008 was the first time we use that on animals where we saw tumors go away," Mirna Therapeutics Director of Research David Brown said.

Human clinical studies on MRX34 could begin in as early as two months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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