Baselga takes helm of AstraZeneca’s cancer R&D as pharma rings in the new year with big changes

Major changes are afoot at AstraZeneca as it shakes up its research structure with new units, new names and big moves.

First up, we have José Baselga, who will run a newly formed cancer-focused unit. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Baselga was the target of pieces from ProPublica and The New York Times a few months back, alleging he had been getting paid by pharma companies for work but had not been disclosing it properly.

He had been physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, but was forced out in the fall over the allegations—something he later took full responsibility for, although this didn’t save his job.

In a letter to his former colleagues before being fired, obtained by The Cancer Letter, he said:

I apologize if any of the coverage and comments in the New York Times and ProPublica has caused any of my colleagues at MSK any embarrassment or professional or personal discomfort. I take responsibility for failing to make appropriate disclosures in scientific and medical journals and at professional meetings. I have already updated disclosures in medical journals and will continue to do so until the record is complete.

I want to be clear that while I may have been inconsistent in disclosing, the article does not question the validity of the research and the studies that were published.  I am committed to transparency and accountability in all of our dealings. That is my goal and I know I need to do better. I know you share my commitment to developing new treatments and medicines that will help our patients suffering from cancer.

I will be meeting with my team to discuss the article and will set up an opportunity to answer your questions and concerns.  I value your inputs and trust.

Now, the controversial scientist takes the helm at arguably AstraZeneca’s biggest unit, as it tries to rebuild its reputation and money-making power after a tough few years, with most of the bright spots coming out of its cancer trials (although not always).

And there’s more: Mene Pangalos, who was previously responsible for the company’s Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit, will now take the helm at another new unit, the Research and Development unit for BioPharmaceuticals, which focuses on research for CV, renal and metabolism and respiratory—most of its work outside cancer.

Both men will report to AZ CEO Pascal Soriot. In a release, the U.K. Big Pharma said, “The units will share common basic biology and science platforms as well as product supply, manufacturing and IT infrastructure to improve efficiency. These resources will continue to be allocated on a Company-wide basis according to the overall therapy area considerations and strategy.”

Soriot added: “We are entering what we expect will be a period of sustained growth for years to come, which is why we have decided to more closely align our R&D and commercial operations. This new structure will support growth and sharpen the focus on our main therapy areas, speeding up decisions and making us more productive in our mission to bring innovative medicines to patients.

“In line with these changes, I am delighted to welcome José to AstraZeneca. An outstanding scientific leader in Oncology, José’s research and clinical achievements have led to the development of several innovative medicines, and he is an international thought leader in cancer care and clinical research. José’s expertise adds further scientific and leadership excellence to our already strong team and will help us to continue building a world-class R&D unit for Oncology.”

Baselga added: “After more than 30 years helping develop medicines in this area, it is a true privilege to now have the opportunity to work with the tremendous Oncology expertise at AstraZeneca. Bringing the discovery through to late-stage development chain into one unit will make the process more agile and accelerate our work to bring transformative medicines to patients. This really is a dream job.”