Noted Cancer Researcher Fails To Disclose Financial Ties to Pharma Companies in Published Articles

conflict of interest

José Baselga, chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center came under fire this weekend for his failure to disclose financial ties to various pharmaceutical companies when he published research papers in peer-reviewed journals.

The New York Times reported that while Baselga was president of the American Association for Cancer Research, he failed to report payments he received from drug companies conducting cancer research the articles he published in the AACR’s journal, Cancer Discovery. The Times, along with colleagues at ProPublica, noted that Baselga has held advisory roles with several pharmaceutical giants, such as Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb. He has also taken stakes in cancer startup companies, the report said. In all, Baselga has a “relationship” with at least a dozen companies, according to the report.

According to the article, Baselga has served on the board of directors of at least six companies since 2013. These positions have required him to “assume a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of those companies,” the article said. The duty to those companies is in addition to his own duties overseeing MSK’s medical operations. MSK told The Times that is has taken steps to prevent Baselga from “having a say in any business between the cancer center and the companies on whose boards he sits.”

The Times and ProPublica report noted that Baselga has received more than $3 million from Roche related to consulting fees, as well as from his stake in a company that the Swiss pharma giant acquired. The article raises a concern that Baselga has attempted to put “a positive spin” on the results of two Roche cancer trials that were largely considered “disappointments” without disclosing his financial relationship with the company.

Baselga told the Times that the failure to disclose those relationships was “unintentional.” He added that his work with the pharma industry was public knowledge, the Times said. Baselga has said he will correct his conflict-of-interest reporting for 17 articles in prestigious publications that include The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet. Other articles though that dealt with early-stage research would not be corrected. Baselga said there was “little financial implication” involved with those, the Times said. Many medical journal publications do not check conflicts of interest statements and “simply require authors to correct the record,” the Times reported.

While Baselga may have failed to report his conflicts in journal publications, Memorial Sloan Kettering was aware of his work with industry companies. A spokesperson told ProPublica and the Times that he had been in compliance with the hospital and that MSK “has a rigorous and comprehensive compliance program in place to promote honesty and objectivity in scientific research.”

Following that statement from the MSK spokesperson, the Times reported that MSK Chief Executive Officer Craig B. Thompson sent an email to MSK staff reminding them to “do a better job” of disclosing any ties with the industry.

The New England Journal of Medicine also said it will implement more stringent disclosure practices regarding authors who publish with it. The NEJM said the problem of failure disclosures is “widespread,” according to the report.

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