The founders of Convergen LifeSciences Inc. had invested only $1,000 of their own money when they asked the State of Texas in 2009 to give them $4.5 million to help develop a new lung cancer-fighting drug using nanotechnology, according to documents the Austin American-Statesman obtained Wednesday under the Texas Public Information Act.
But the documents raised as many questions as they answered about Convergen, which was founded two years ago by David Nance, an Austin biotech executive and political contributor to Gov. Rick Perry, and Dr. Jack Roth, a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The company’s application listed three members of its board of directors, including Nance. The other two said Wednesday they had never served on the board.
The state paid Convergen half of the $4.5 million last August, when Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus approved the grant, the second largest ever from the Emerging Technology Fund. The state cut a check for the rest of the money Tuesday.
Perry and Straus defended the Convergen award Wednesday. “We supported the grant based on the potential the technology offered in fighting cancer,” said Tracy Young, Straus’ communications director.
Convergen applied for the technology fund grant in July 2009. A regional panel that reviews fund applications turned Nance down. Convergen then bypassed a special state panel that reviews life-sciences applications.
Nance took his case to a 17-member statewide advisory committee that makes final recommendations on grants.
Among its reasons for recommending the $4.5 million award, the state board noted: “Finally, the committee knows and respects Convergen’s founding management team, having successfully launched other biotechnology companies in the past.”
Indeed, two members of the board knew Nance well. Max Talbott, now a consultant, was part of Introgen’s executive team. Bob Pearson, who has had business dealings with Nance, recused himself from voting on Convergen’s application.
Nance also has long ties to Perry, who has called him a close friend. Nance has contributed $100,000 to Perry campaigns since 2000.
Your tax dollars at work, folks. Maybe at some point during Perry’s victory lap around America the national media will ask him about this.