Mar 22, 2021
ASCO and the oncology community are deeply saddened by the passing of José Baselga, MD, PhD, FASCO, on March 21, 2021, at age 61. Dr. Baselga died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare fatal neurodegenerative disorder, according to his family.
A breast cancer specialist and a world-renowned leader in oncology drug development, Dr. Baselga was the lead investigator in the initial trial that demonstrated clinical activity of the anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody trastuzumab, a drug that revolutionized the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer. His work was instrumental in the development of pertuzumab, the second anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody to receive FDA approval after trastuzumab, as well as cetuximab, lapatinib, and everolimus, among other therapies. ASCO recognized his promise as a clinical trialist from the very early days of his career, granting him a Young Investigator Award in 1992 and a Career Development Award in 1994.
ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, who began three decades of collaboration with Dr. Baselga in 1989 when they were both fellows at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), noted, “His remarkable career was built on a passionately articulated vision of the future of cancer research and care. José believed in evidence, had faith in science and translational research, and valued execution. He held himself to high standards and expected the same from others. In my experience over three decades, this drive marked everything he did, every day.”
At the time of his passing, Dr. Baselga served as the executive vice president of oncology research and development at AstraZeneca. According to a statement from AstraZeneca, Dr. Baselga “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.”
Before joining the staff at AstraZeneca in 2019, Dr. Baselga served as physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at MSKCC, where he joined the faculty in the Breast Medicine Service after completing his fellowship at the institution, and as a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School. During his career, he held leadership roles at Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (an institution he founded in 1996) in Barcelona, Spain, and at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
Dr. Baselga was a long-time ASCO volunteer; he served on the Board of Directors from 2003 to 2006, on the Annual Meeting Scientific Program Committee (which he chaired in 2001), and on the Special Awards Selection Committee, among other roles. He also served as past president of the American Association of Cancer Research and past president of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). In 2017 he was honored with the ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The world of oncology has lost a true change-maker,” Dr. Hudis said.
Dr. Baselga is survived by his wife and four children.