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Top Breast Cancer Researcher Didn’t Disclose Financial Ties

José Baselga of Memorial Sloan Kettering took millions of dollars from drug and health care companies but did not report the payments in his research articles.

Sep 10, 2018
Ashley Yeager

ABOVE: WIKIMEDIA, JULIANA THOMAS

Update (September 14): Cancer researcher José Baselga resigned yesterday from Memorial Sloan Kettering following reports of his failure to disclosure payments from health care companies, The New York Times reports.

Since 2013, José Baselga, a world-renowned cancer researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has received millions of dollars from drug and health care companies but has not disclosed the financial connections in research articles, according to an investigation by The New York Times and Pro Publica published Saturday (September 8).

One of the most flagrant omissions was Baselga’s failure to follow the rules of disclosure from the American Association for Cancer Research, even when he served as president of the organization. The association puts out Cancer Discovery, a journal in which Baselga published without declaring the payments he received. He also served as the journal’s editor-in-chief at the time.

Another major lapse, according to the investigation, was in not admitting his relationship with Roche while praised the results of two company-sponsored clinical trials that other researchers considered subpar. In the past four years, Baselga consulted for the company and had stake in a company Roche acquired, and as a result, received more than $3 million. 

Baselga tells the two media outlets the lack of disclosures were unintentional. “I acknowledge that there have been inconsistencies, but that’s what it is,” he says. “It’s not that I do not appreciate the importance.”

Still, the publicity of the disclosure led executives at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to issue an institution-wide email calling for employees to improve how they report their relationships with the drug and health care industries, The New York Times reports in a second article published Sunday (September 9).

“The matter of disclosure is serious,” writes President Craig Thompson and Chief Operating Officer Kathryn Martin in the email, according to The New York Times. “We need to work with journal publishers and professional societies to standardize the reporting process.” Institution representatives have been working with the American Society of Clinical Oncology to create more concrete guidelines for disclosing financial ties, the two note.

“If leaders don’t follow the rules, then we don’t really have rules,” Walid Gellad, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, tells The New York Times. “It says that the rules don’t matter.”

Baselga says he will go back and report the disclosures in some of the articles called into question, and an MSKCC spokesperson confirmed during the investigation that Baselga had told the institution about the payments.

“I have spent my career caring for cancer patients and bringing new therapies to the clinic with the goal of extending and saving lives,” Baselga says in a statement given to reporters. “While I have been inconsistent with disclosures and acknowledge that fact, that is a far cry from compromising my responsibilities as a physician, as a scientist and as a clinical leader.”

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