Leading cancer expert resigns as journal editor after disclosure issues

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

Dr Jose Baselga

Dr José Baselga, the former chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, resigned under pressure as one of the editors-in-chief of the American Association for Cancer Research's journal Cancer Discovery, after he failed to accurately disclose his conflicts of interest in dozens of articles in medical journals.

The American Association for Cancer Research, which publishes the journal, is quoted in a report in The New York Times as saying a panel of experts and the group’s board of directors had concluded that “Dr Baselga did not adhere to the high standards pertaining to conflict of interest disclosures that the AACR expects of its leadership. Consequently, Dr Baselga was asked to resign from his role at the journal.”

The report says Baselga, a prominent figure in the world of cancer research, had helped found the journal and served as an editor for the past eight years. The AACR, which he formerly led as president, concluded that his omissions were inadvertent and said it would allow Dr Baselga to continue publishing in its journals. “Dr Baselga is a valued member of the AACR with acknowledged expertise in clinical and translational cancer research,” Dr Margaret Foti, the group’s CEO, said.

Baselga’s disclosure lapses have prompted a broader discussion over the influence of the drug and health care industries on medical research, including whether journals should do a better job of ensuring that researchers accurately report their corporate ties. The reports says teaching hospitals across the country have reminded faculty of their obligation to disclose, and some have begun re-examining which relationships are appropriate.

Baselga resigned as chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering in September after The New York Times and ProPublica reported that he had failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from health care companies in dozens of research articles. He also resigned from the boards of the drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and Varian Medical Systems, a maker of radiation equipment.

The report says contacted for comment, Baselga provided the resignation letter he sent to the AACR. In it, he thanked the cancer organisation for its “deliberate and thorough review” and said he takes “great heart from the panel’s finding that my failure to disclose was inadvertent. I understand, however, that the situation made it difficult for me to continue in a leadership role.”

Baselga, 59, is an expert in breast cancer research and played a key role in the development of Herceptin by Genentech, a subsidiary of Roche. He came to Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2013 after serving as chief of haematology and oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Before that, he was a leader at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, Spain.

The report says since September, Baselga has corrected his conflict-of-interest disclosures in several journals, including two in the New England Journal of Medicine, three in Clinical Cancer Research, five in JAMA Oncology, and two in Cancer Discovery.
In a note that accompanied Baselga’s correction in the New England Journal of Medicine, editors described his failure as a “breach of trust.”

Baselga also revised disclosures with the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which said that Baselga’s participation in future meetings will be contingent on a review of his presentation slides and that his sessions would be monitored for evidence of bias. The group also said that if Baselga did not disclose his interactions in the future, he would be barred from participating in any meetings sponsored by ASCO for two years.

The report says investigations found that Baselga had failed to report any industry ties in 60% of the nearly 180 papers he had published since 2013. That figure increased each year – he did not disclose any relationships in 87% of the journal articles that he co-wrote last year.

The AACR said its panel of experts will continue to look at conflict-of-interest disclosures, including how to “best harmonise such disclosures and provide greater clarity around these issues.”

The New York Times report

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