Top cancer doctor resigns over medical journal disclosure scandal

A top breast cancer doctor and researcher has resigned from Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center after a report revealed he failed to disclose millions of dollars he received from healthcare companies in medical journals and research.

The New York Times and ProPublica broke the story earlier this month that José Baselga, MD, PhD, physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at MSK, did not list any potential conflicts of interest in 87 percent of the articles he wrote or co-wrote in 2017, despite having received payments in the millions from nine companies, including $3 million from a pharmaceutical company, from 2013 to 2017.

Doctors have been required to publicly disclose payments and other conflicts of interest within medical articles and research since 2013. New York-based MSK is the oldest and largest private cancer center in the world, according to its website, and is considered to be a top institute.  

“Unfortunately, I fear my continued role leading clinical care and research will become too much of a distraction to the hospital and its remarkable team of physicians, researchers and staff,” Baselga wrote in his resignation letter, which was released Thursday. “I take full responsibility for failing to make appropriate disclosures in scientific and medical journals and at professional meetings.”

Baselga promised to amend his disclosures in at least 17 articles in medical journals after the NY Times and ProPublica story broke.

The story brings to light the ongoing issue of conflicts of interest across medical research. In the days following the original report of Baselga’s disclosure failures, MSK executives conducted urgent meetings with physician leaders and the executive committee of the board of directors, the NY Times and ProPublica reported.

Lisa DeAngelis, MD, chair of the department of neurology, will take over as acting physician-in-chief until Baselga’s successor is hired, the two publications reported.

As of Friday morning, Baselga was still listed in his leadership role on MSK’s website.

Baselga noted he hoped his situation would move research institutions, publications, industry, professional societies and other stakeholders to double down on transparency.

“Beyond me, this is an important matter for the entire medical research field,” he wrote.