Texas House approves bills to secure future of cancer research agency

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lawmakers in the Texas House have approved two bills that could determine the future of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. 

Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment more than a decade ago to establish the program, also known as CPRIT. It allowed the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund cancer research and prevention programs throughout the state. 

Without further action from the legislature, the agency will sunset in 2023. However, Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, filed two bills this legislative session to renew the agency. 

House Bill 39 will allow CPRIT to continue beyond the original timeframe set by the initial acting legislation. House Joint Resolution 12 proposes a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase the maximum bond amount authorized for CPRIT to $6 billion. 

“So much has yet to come and that needs to come over the next decade of research and investments and various cures and preventions for cancer,” Zerwas said.

Zerwas praised the work that’s already taking place in Texas.

“I really see us as being at the forefront of cancer research, which should translate into cures and certainly preventative measures,” he said.

For two-time cancer survivor Rebecca Esparza, the possibility of CPRIT’s renewal gives her a glimpse of hope. She helped rally for CPRIT’s creation back in 2007. 

“My doctors at MD Anderson told me that my likelihood of getting cancer again in the future is really high,” she said. “I’m counting on research to save my life.”

Esparza, who was diagnosed with both ovarian cancer and thyroid cancer, received the news about her diagnoses before she was the age of 40. In 2016, she also underwent a 12-hour surgery when doctors thought she had colon cancer. Managing the side effects are part of Esparza’s daily life.

“When I was diagnosed in 2001, [doctors] said I had about eight months to live,” Esparza said. 

“I was given a really bitter, bitter set of lemons that I’ve been able to make some pretty sweet lemonade out of,” she said. “I can still have a voice. I can share that voice and I can still have some sort of an influence on where we go from here.”

According to CPRIT’s website, the agency has funded 1,371 awards for cancer research, product development and prevention since 2010. The total amount awarded so far is $2,260,400,194. Recipients include academic institutions, non-profits and private companies, according to the agency. 

The Texas Senate will have to approve these bills in order for them to head to the Governor.

“I actually think both chambers are going to agree on this,” Zerwas said. “The Senate has taken some action already and in fact, we’re going to meet it up together and we’ll figure it out. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the bill. It just matters that it happens.”

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