October 14, 2019
By Sen. Kirk Watson
Texas voters once again have the opportunity to decide if the state should invest in cancer research and prevention.
As a cancer survivor and someone who lost both parents to cancer, I think the answer is an unequivocal “yes” because the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has already saved lives.
In 2007, voters authorized $3 billion in bonds to fund the institute. That extraordinary public investment has led to incredible research and prevention programs and lured top cancer researchers, such as Nobel Prize winner Dr. Jim Allison, to Texas institutions.
Allison relocated his breakthrough immunotherapy research to MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2011. So far, drugs based on this work have been approved to fight 16 types of cancer, with Texas-based clinical trials under way to test further uses. These drugs often have fewer side effects, giving many people a better quality of life during treatment and leaving many patients in long-term remission.
Texas is second only to the National Cancer Institute in the funding of cancer research. There’s no doubt that advances made as a result of financing the Texas institute have improved the odds of survival for countless people facing a terrifying diagnosis.
More than 19,500 patients are being treated in 132 clinical trials or studies of drugs created by institute-funded researchers. And the cancer mortality rate in Texas decreased by 8% from 2011 to 2016, according to Texas Cancer Registry data.
The institute also plays an essential role in cancer prevention. Institute-funded screenings have detected cancer or cancer precursors, such as polyps, in over 18,000 Texans.
Locally, Dell Medical School launched a pilot program in Travis County — paid for by a 2018 institute grant — that within a year more than doubled the rate of colorectal cancer screenings among historically underserved patients. Nationally, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths.
Dr. Michael Pignone, who led the program, said in February that the goal was “to fill a significant gap in cancer prevention across Central Texas, especially among people facing financial and access barriers to these critical preventive services.”
“A big part of this effort also involves raising community awareness so that eventually, everyone who needs screening receives it,” Pignone said.
In August, Pignone received another institute prevention grant to implement a smoking cessation and lung cancer-screening program similar to the colorectal cancer work.
And Jennifer Maynard, a chemical engineering professor at The University of Texas, secured institute funding to develop nano-sized immunotherapies to treat pediatric brain cancer. In fact, the institute strategically invests 12% of its funding portfolio in childhood cancer research – more than three times what is invested proportionally at a national level – making it a national leader in this area.
Texans have the opportunity on Nov. 5 to continue Texas’ fight against cancer by voting “Yes” on Proposition 6, a constitutional amendment to authorize another $3 billion in bonds. Without a new infusion of funds, institute money will run out and we’ll lose the momentum provided by the initial investments.
When my mother, Billye Watson, was first diagnosed with cancer, her mantra for living became “Keep me alive for six months because who knows what I’ll see and who knows what they’ll invent to keep me alive another six months.” That’s the essence of the institute — the creation of new ways to prevent cancer and lengthen and save lives.
Why should you support Proposition 6? Because the institute might save the life of you or someone you love.
Watson was elected to the Texas Senate in 2006 and represents much of Travis County and all of Bastrop County. This op-ed also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.