José Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., has resigned from Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in the wake of a report about his failure to disclose his financial ties to drug developers in research papers. Baselga framed his resignation as an attempt to stop the news from becoming a distraction for MSK.
The New York Times and nonprofit newsroom ProPublica broke news of Baselga’s disclosure lapses over the weekend and were the first to cover his resignation. Baselga detailed the reasons for his resignation in a letter to MSK CEO Craig Thompson, M.D.
“I fear my continued role leading clinical care and research will become too much of a distraction to the hospital,” Baselga wrote in his resignation letter. “I take full responsibility for failing to make appropriate disclosures in scientific and medical journals and at professional meetings.”
A subsequent email from Thompson to staff at the hospital suggests Baselga’s situation has been a distraction for MSK over the past few days. Thompson noted that questions about Baselga’s financial ties to companies “have caused concern from the community, our staff and most importantly our patients and family members.”
These concerns may have dissipated over time, freeing Baselga to get on with leading clinical care and research at MSK. But Baselga and MSK have instead nipped the situation in the bud. The debate over whether that response is proportional to the wrongdoing is likely to rumble on, with strong feelings being expressed by both sides.
As an experienced physician who played an important role in the advancement of cancer care, Baselga’s resignation is a blow to the field. On the other hand, such high-profile physicians need to be seen to be transparent to build public trust and set an example for the next generation of doctors.
Lisa DeAngelis, M.D., a neuro-oncologist, is set to fill the physician-in-chief post vacated by Baselga on an interim basis. MSK is now set to search for a permanent successor to Baselga.