More than 100 days after the New York Times and ProPublica first revealed that Jose Baselga, MD, Ph.D, had failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from industry, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) announced that Baselga, a former society president from 2015-2016, had resigned as one of the editors-in-chief of Cancer Discovery, referred to several times in its statement as a high-impact or highly cited scientific journal.
The resignation follows his resignation as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s physician-in-chief in September shortly after the New York Times and ProPublica began their series on various ethical lapses at the cancer center.
I’ve been covering the Baselga saga and its impact on conflict of interest issues for Onco’Zine since early October and have asked AACR several times for an interview regarding Baselga’s status within the organization.
Rick Buck, AACR senior director of communications and public relations, told me last month that a panel of experts including physicians, basic scientists, an ethicist, a patient advocate, and others were reviewing the situation and would make a fact-based recommendation regarding his editorial role at Cancer Discovery.
The recommendation was released today to AACR members and select reporters, according to Buck, who said he could not provide the names of the panelists, and that AACR would not comment until the panel completes its work focusing on the larger issue of conflict of interest disclosures, perhaps sometime next year.
During a phone conversation, he cited the busy schedules of the many people involved as the reason for the lag time between the original allegations against Baselga and the panel’s recommendation.
The panel found that Baselga “did not adhere to the high standards pertaining to conflict of interest disclosures that the AACR expects of its leadership” and that his “non-disclosures were inadvertent, and it firmly believes that his errors of omission were not done to influence the publication of an article.”
Further, the panel concluded “that his omission of disclosures should not preclude him from making further contributions to the field.”
When asked whether Baselga would still be co-chairing a conference on “Breakthroughs in Cancer Research: Biology to Precision Medicine,” scheduled in February in Maui, Hawaii, and featured in AACR’s newly released Scientific Programs calendar, Buck said the only decision that has been fully confirmed is that of his editorial role with Cancer Discovery.
In addition, AACR wrote it would “contribute to a national dialogue on how to best harmonize such disclosures and provide greater clarity around these issues, including convening a workshop on the topic at its 2019 Annual Meeting,” in late March. For the record, I volunteered to serve as a journalist member of the workshop panel, although I have no idea who AACR will select for that event.
No sources contacted were aware of Baselga’s whereabouts since he stepped down from his post at MSKCC, although some speculated that he had returned to his native Barcelona, Spain.
As part of its series on ethical issues in research, Onco’Zine will continue reporting on developments as they arise.
Here is AACR’s unedited statement:
José Baselga, MD, PhD, resigned today as one of the Editors-in-Chief of Cancer Discovery, a high-impact scientific journal published by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). His resignation is effective immediately.
In recent weeks, Dr. Baselga’s conflict of interest disclosures have been part of a wider media focus on disclosures. The AACR appointed a panel of experts that included physicians, basic scientists, an ethicist, a patient advocate, and others to review and make a fact-based recommendation regarding his editorial role at Cancer Discovery.
After reviewing relevant data, the panel concluded, and the AACR Board of Directors concurred, 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 panel determined that Dr. Baselga’s non-disclosures were inadvertent, and it firmly believes that his errors of omission were not done to influence the publication of an article. Recognizing Dr. Baselga’s outstanding career as a physician-scientist, his significant contributions to the AACR, and his many other professional accomplishments, the panel stated that his omission of disclosures should not preclude him from making further contributions to the field.
“Dr. Baselga is a valued member of the AACR with acknowledged expertise in clinical and translational cancer research,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), Chief Executive Officer of the AACR. “The AACR is very grateful to him for his eight years of service as one of the Editors-in-Chief of Cancer Discovery. Along with Editor-in-Chief, Lewis Cantley, PhD, Dr. Baselga has provided steadfast guidance that has been instrumental in increasing the journal’s impact.”
Cancer Discovery will now conduct a search for a co-Editor-in-Chief. Dr. Cantley will continue his editorial oversight along with the expert assistance of the journal’s Board of Scientific Editors.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Dr. Baselga over the past eight years as we served as founders and co-editors of Cancer Discovery,” Dr. Cantley said. “His insight into the quality of clinical and translational research papers submitted to the journal has been critical as we grew Cancer Discovery into one of the most highly cited cancer journals.”
The AACR panel of experts will focus on addressing the complex issue of conflict of interest disclosures as these vary across scientific journals and organizations. The AACR will contribute to a national dialogue on how to best harmonize such disclosures and provide greater clarity around these issues, including convening a workshop on the topic at its 2019 Annual Meeting.
The AACR will keep its members and other key stakeholders apprised of updates to the AACR’s conflict of interest policies and procedures.
 Rosenthal ET. How Meaningful Will Changes Be to Ethical Guidelines Following Jose Baselga’s Fall? October 9, 2018 [Article]
 Rosenthal ET. Professional Societies Disclose Their Disclosure Policies, But Why Won’t Some Discuss Them? November 20, 2018 [Article]
Last editorial review: December 19, 2018
Featured Image: Jose Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., speaks during the “Opening Plenary Session: Harnessing Breakthroughs, Targeting Cures” at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, Sunday April 6, 2014. Courtesy: 2018 © AACR/Phil McCarten. Used with permission
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