AstraZeneca Taps Controversial Former MSK CMO Jose Baselga to Head Oncology R&D

AstraZeneca logo on outside of building

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Chief Medical Officer José Baselga, who resigned from the cancer center in September under a cloud, has been tapped as the new head of oncology research and discovery at AstraZeneca.

 In the company’s announcement this morning, AstraZeneca Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot called Baselga am “outstanding scientific leader in oncology.” He said that Baselga’s research and clinical achievements “have led to the development of several innovative medicines” and called him an “international thought leader in cancer care and clinical research.”

“José’s expertise adds further scientific and leadership excellence to our already strong team and will help us to continue building a world-class R&D unit for Oncology,” Soriot said.

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In a statement this morning, Baselga called his role with AstraZeneca a dream job.

Baselga resigned from his role at MSK in September after reports surfaced that he failed to disclose his vast financial ties to various pharmaceutical companies in journal articles he published. Baselga has held advisory roles with several pharmaceutical giants, such as Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he served on that company’s board of directors. At Genentech, the Roche subsidiary, he played a key role in the development of Herceptin, the noted breast cancer treatment. In all, Baselga was revealed to have financial relationships with more than a dozen pharma companies, according to the reports co-authored by The New York Times and ProPublica.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this morning, Baselga apologized again for his disclosure failures. He said there was no excuse for the failure. Soriot told the Journal that “the company's chief ethics officer was satisfied that these omissions were accidental.” Soriot added that Baselga’s expertise in the field of oncology will help make the company stronger and more competitive in the marketplace.

The addition of Baselga wasn’t the only organizational announcement that the U.K.-based pharma giant made this morning. The company also made some changes to support innovation and commercial successes in its main therapy areas. Among the changes is the development of R&D and commercial units in the company’s biopharmaceuticals (cardiovascular, renal & metabolism (CVRM) and respiratory) area and in oncology. Mene Pangalos, who was previously responsible for AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit, will head the biopharmaceuticals R&D unit.

Soriot said the changes to align R&D with the commercial units were made in order to support what is likely to be a period of sustained growth.

“This new structure will support growth and sharpen the focus on our main therapy areas, speeding up decisions and making us more productive in our mission to bring innovative medicines to patients,” Soriot said in a statement.

While AstraZeneca welcomed Baselga, the company has said goodbye to Mark Mallon, its head of product and portfolio strategy. Mallon took over the reins of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals after its former CEO, Peter Hecht, stepped down to take over the helm of a spinout company. Hecht will head up Cyclerion Therapeutics, Inc., the spinout company which will focus on its soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) business, while Ironwood remains focused on its gastrointestinal business. Ironwood announced the separation of the businesses in May 2018.

“Mark’s extensive experience building and shaping businesses, combined with his deep knowledge of GI, will be invaluable as he works to take Ironwood to the next level and create significant value for Ironwood stakeholders. Peter is an incredible entrepreneur and leader, and his passion for creating drugs that can change patients’ lives positions him and the team for success at Cyclerion,” Terrance G. McGuire, Ironwood’s chairman of the board of directors said in a statement.

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