José Baselga, Renowned Oncologist, Dies at 61
José Baselga, Renowned Oncologist, Dies at 61

José Baselga, Renowned Oncologist, Dies at 61

The cancer researcher and executive vice president of AstraZeneca’s oncology research and development is well known for his role in the development of pivotal breast cancer therapies.

Asher Jones
Asher Jones
Mar 22, 2021

ABOVE: José Baselga
COURTESY OF ASTRAZENECA

José Baselga, an oncologist and AstraZeneca executive who helped develop novel treatments for breast cancer, died March 21 at the age of 61.

“Dr. Baselga’s death is a great loss to cancer research,” Margaret Foti, the CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), where Baselga was the president from 2015–2016, says in a statement sent to The Scientist. “He played a leading role in the clinical trials of several therapeutics that are pillars of cancer treatment. He was a caring oncologist and supportive mentor to a whole generation of physician-scientists. He will be dearly missed through the entire world for his stellar contributions to cancer science and to the improved care of cancer patients.”

According to an AACR biography, Baselga’s research focused on novel molecular targeted therapeutics aimed at HER2, a key receptor on many breast cancers, and the PI3K pathway, often considered a master regulator of cancer. Throughout his career, he was involved in the clinical development of several cancer drugs, including trastuzumab (Herceptin), everolimus, lapatinib, and pertuzumab.

A native of Spain, Baselga earned his MD in 1982 and his PhD in 1992, both from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the AACR biography states. He later founded the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, a top European cancer research and treatment center. Later, he took up clinical leadership positions at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and professorships at Harvard Medical School and Weill Cornell Medical College, his profile from AstraZeneca notes.

Baselga resigned from his position as chief medical officer of MSKCC in 2018 after a report exposed that he had failed to disclose financial ties with drug and healthcare companies in dozens of research articles. At the time, he said that the omissions were unintentional.

In 2019, Baselga joined AstraZeneca as the executive vice president for oncology research and development. According to a statement from the pharmaceutical company, he led a team that investigated new cancer treatments and facilitated a collaboration that led to the clinical development of two cancer drugs. “An outstanding scientific leader, José leaves a lasting legacy in the scientific community and here at AstraZeneca,” Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s CEO, writes in the statement. “His visionary leadership, deep scientific expertise and strategic insight have delivered so many achievements that we can all be proud of and that will benefit patients’ lives in the years to come.” 

According to the Spanish news site La Vanguardia, Baselga died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare, rapidly progressing, degenerative brain disease.

Baselga spent the last weeks of his life at his home in La Cerdanya, Spain, surrounded by family, La Vanguardia reports. He is survived by his wife, Silvia, and four children.