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Precision Oncology Giant Jose Baselga Dies at 61

NEW YORK – José Baselga, AstraZeneca's executive VP of oncology R&D and a leader in precision oncology, died Sunday at age 61 of the rare, neurologic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The cause of his death was first reported in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.

Baselga was heavily involved in the clinical development of several widely used precision oncology treatments, including trastuzumab (Roche's Herceptin), everolimus (Novartis' Afinitor), lapatinib (Novartis' Tykerb), pertuzumab (Roche's Perjeta), cetuximab (Lilly's Erbitux), erlotinib (Roche's Tarceva), gefitinib (AstraZeneca's Iressa), and trastuzumab deruxtecan (Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca's Enhertu).

With regard to trastuzumab deruxtecan, Baselga is credited with spearheading the collaboration between AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo to develop the HER2-targeted agent. Trastuzumab deruxtecan is approved in the US for previously treated metastatic, HER2-positive breast cancer, as well as metastatic, HER2-positive gastric or gastroesophageal junction cancer. The agent is currently being developed for a number of other cancer indications, too.

Prior to joining AstraZeneca's executive team in 2019, Baselga spent 14 years as a founding director and the chairman of medical oncology at Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, where he was originally from. After that, he spent three years as the hematology/oncology division chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by five years as chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Baselga pivoted to industry amid controversy over his failure to disclose conflicts of interest in published studies in major medical journals, including millions of dollars in payments from pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. Baselga always maintained the omissions were unintentional, and while criticism varied — some thought the reactions were overblown, while others were outraged — the news was a catalyst for increased diligence among doctors and academics in disclosing conflicts of interest.

In a statement on Baselga's death, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said, "José built a world-class oncology R&D team who will miss him dearly, just as all his colleagues will throughout our entire company."