UPDATED: José Baselga, acclaimed drug hunter, physician and AstraZeneca's pioneering cancer R&D chief, has died
José Baselga, the brilliant oncology R&D chief at AstraZeneca and a towering figure in cancer drug development who had earlier been chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering, has died at the age of 61.
Baselga succumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rapidly progressive and lethal neurodegenerative disease closely associated with mad cow disease that is triggered in about 1 in every million people.
Pascal Soriot moved swiftly to reorganize AstraZeneca’s R&D operations around Baselga after he joined from Memorial Sloan Kettering, where he had garnered accolades for his work in cancer R&D.
News of his sudden and shocking death spread swiftly on Twitter, as colleagues and friends weighed in with their farewells.
Shocked and devastated by today’s news of José’s passing. He was a brilliant oncologist, a fantastic drug developer and a wonderful, inspiring and challenging colleague. We have lost a special and irreplaceable person today. pic.twitter.com/c63bxRlvS4
— Menelas Pangalos (@MenePangalos) March 21, 2021
José Baselga, MD, PhD— revered AACR Past President, Fellow of the AACR Academy, and an internationally renowned expert in the development of molecular targeted agents— has died at the age of 61. We offer heartfelt condolences to his family, colleagues, and friends. #AACRFellows pic.twitter.com/JFA9wskPzX
— AACR (@AACR) March 21, 2021
The Barcelona native had an instant impact on the pipeline at AstraZeneca, directing the pharma giant to a late-stage alliance on Enhertu, which was quickly rewarded with an approval and a shot at a rapidly expanding franchise. Soriot hailed him at the time he joined the company as an “outstanding scientific leader” whose work at MSK had led to a variety of significant new cancer drugs. He had worked as an adviser with some of the biggest players in oncology, though his failure to consistently cite those relationships in the literature would lead to a dust-up that led to his exit from MSK.
Baselga apologized directly for that, and quite a number of people in industry had felt that the controversy was overblown at the time.
A noted breast cancer specialist, Baselga has been cited for his efforts around PI3K research, which has more recently inspired further investigation around mTOR and AKT inhibition.
Soriot offered a heartfelt tribute today:
José championed our transformative collaborations with Daiichi-Sankyo in relation to the clinical development of Enhertu (trastuzumab deruxtecan) and datopotamab deruxtecan, two medicines which have demonstrated great potential to benefit cancer patients. He led a team to accelerate other exciting new science in antibody-drug conjugates, cell therapy, epigenetics, as well as new cancer treatments. He also championed the use of real-world evidence and digital tools to transform the way we design and implement clinical trials.
José built a world-class Oncology R&D team who will miss him dearly, just as all his colleagues will throughout our entire Company.
José was more than a colleague to me. He was a friend, and someone I immensely respected and cherished. I will enormously miss having him alongside me, and I will continue to be inspired by his work and vision.
I had a chance to talk to Baselga about his work at AstraZeneca recently, which you can see here.
Baselga’s daughter — Clara Baselga-Garriga — launched a fundraiser Sunday to support research into Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). You can check it out here.