After MSKCC, Baselga Heads Oncology R&D at AstraZeneca

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

January 08, 2019

Internationally renowned breast cancer expert José Baselga, MD, PhD, who recently stepped down as chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) after failing to disclose payments from pharmaceutical companies, has been appointed the new head of research and development (R&D) for oncology at AstraZeneca.

His appointment comes just months after Baselga resigned from his MSKCC post amid heated controversy over his failure to disclose industry relationships in academic medical journals.

As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, Baselga previously held the positions of physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at MSKCC. During his tenure there, he did not disclose millions of dollars that he received in payments from the pharmaceutical industry and extensive corporate relationships. These financial ties were omitted in dozens of research articles published in prestigious journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet.

According to an analysis by the New York Times and ProPublica conducted in September 2018, Baselga has also held board memberships or has served in advisory roles with Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, among other companies; has had a stake in start-ups during early-phase trials; and has played a key role in the development of new therapies that have helped to change the paradigm of breast cancer treatment.

In a letter to his former colleagues before leaving MSKCC, which was obtained by the Cancer Letter, Baselga wrote:

"I apologize if any of the coverage and comments in the New York Times and ProPublica has caused any of my colleagues at MSK any embarrassment or professional or personal discomfort. I take responsibility for failing to make appropriate disclosures in scientific and medical journals and at professional meetings. I have already updated disclosures in medical journals and will continue to do so until the record is complete."

He added that he wanted to make it clear that although he "may have been inconsistent in disclosing," the validity of the research and the studies that were published has not been questioned.

Overhaul at AstraZeneca

At his new position at AstraZeneca, Baselga holds the title of executive vice president, research and development unit for oncology.

This new position is part of organizational changes taking place at the company to support continued scientific innovation and commercial success in the main therapy areas, AstraZeneca commented in a press release. It stated that the company is entering a new phase in its strategic development.

The company plans to create new therapy area–focused R&D units. The units will be responsible for discovery through late-stage development. One R&D unit will be for biopharmaceuticals in cardiovascular, renal and metabolism, and respiratory fields. A second R&D unit will be for oncology. The plan includes mirrored commercial units — one for biopharmaceuticals and one for oncology. These commercial units will complement the R&D units.

In the company press release, Baselga commented: "After more than 30 years helping develop medicines in this area, it is a true privilege to now have the opportunity to work with the tremendous oncology expertise at AstraZeneca.

"Bringing the discovery through to late-stage development chain into one unit will make the process more agile and accelerate our work to bring transformative medicines to patients," he added.

The R&D units and the commercial units will report to Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot. All units will share common basic biology and science platforms along with product supply, manufacturing, and information technology infrastructure to improve efficiency.

"We are entering what we expect will be a period of sustained growth for years to come, which is why we have decided to more closely align our R&D and commercial operations," Soriot commented.

He also welcomed Baselga to the company, describing him as an "outstanding scientific leader in oncology.... José's research and clinical achievements have led to the development of several innovative medicines, and he is an international thought leader in cancer care and clinical research."

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