publication date: Sep. 10, 2018

José Baselga: “I take responsibility for failing to make appropriate disclosures”

By Matthew Bin Han Ong and Paul Goldberg

José Baselga, physician-in-chief and chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has apologized to his executive team for “failing to make appropriate disclosures in scientific and medical journals and at professional meetings.”

Baselga’s email comes on the heels of a Sept. 9 article by The New York Times and ProPublica, which details Baselga’s failure to report millions of dollars in consulting fees and ownership interests in health care companies.

The text of Baselga’s email, which was obtained by The Cancer Letter, follows:

From: Baselga, Jose T./Physician-in-Chief

Subject: message from Jose Baselga

Dear MSK Colleagues,

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.

Best regards,

Jose

MSK officials declined to comment on the matter.

“We have asked Dr. Baselga to review his disclosures and work with the various medical societies and journal editors to correct the record of appropriate papers and presentations as the journals and societies see fit,” Craig Thompson, MSK president and chief executive officer, and Kathryn Martin, chief operating officer, wrote in a Sept. 9 email that was sent to the faculty and staff. “MSK and our faculty need to do a better job. In addition, we need to work with journal publishers and professional societies to standardize the reporting process.”

The mea-culpa-mea-culpa-mea-culpa-mea-maxima-culpa strategy likely represents MSK’s only hope that this issue will be categorized as a problem of compliance with vague and inconsistent disclosure rules, lose intensity and blow away.

The findings in Baselga’s papers aren’t being challenged. It appears that while disclosures weren’t made in journals, cancer center officials were, in fact, informed about the competing interests.

Many physicians and scientists have competing interests, but generally the rule of thumb is to err on the side of making more disclosure rather than less.

This strategy makes sense, because disclosed conflicts of interest rarely lead to rejection of a paper, while failure to disclose can cause embarrassment and worse. Indeed, there is little doubt that had Baselga made appropriate disclosures to journals and professional societies, he would still have been able to publish and present his findings.

“I think we should all be disclosing as required, but it is not all all clear to me what difference disclosure makes,” Arthur Caplan, the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics at New York University Langone Health and the founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics, said to The Cancer Letter. “You still see many arrangements that raise an eyebrow or sometimes induce a yawn. I don’t think disclosure is the answer to managing conflicts of interest.”

The text of the Sept. 9 email from Thompson and Martin follows:

Subject: IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM CRAIG THOMPSON AND KATHRYN MARTIN

Dear MSK Colleagues,

This morning’s print edition of The New York Times carries a front-page story regarding an analysis of voluntary disclosures made by Dr. Jose Baselga to journals and at professional meetings. The matter of disclosure is serious.

MSK has robust programs in place to ensure the quality, safety and excellence of MSK’s patient care and research. These programs govern how our staff should work with outside organizations, including the pharmaceutical industry. They apply to all members of the MSK community.

We have asked Dr. Baselga to review his disclosures and work with the various medical societies and journal editors to correct the record of appropriate papers and presentations as the journals and societies see fit. He started that process and has already been in communication with several organizations.

The issues surrounding author disclosures are complex, as there are nebulous guidelines about when and how to make voluntary disclosures. We also believe in supporting academic freedom and the ability of individual researchers to engage in the scientific process, including publication of results. This extends to the judgement [sic] exercised by individual researchers and their responsibilities as authors with regard to disclosure.

MSK and our faculty need to do a better job. In addition, we need to work with journal publishers and professional societies to standardize the reporting process. We have had ongoing discussions with the American Society for [sic] Clinical Oncology about their model, as well as the value of a common standard for oncology disclosures in journals and presentations. We are supportive of ASCO’s efforts in this area and the leadership demonstrated by that organization. The issue of disclosure extends well beyond the world of oncology and MSK will also look to the efforts of other organizations, including the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Our work with industry partners is integral to MSK’s charitable mission of providing high quality cancer care, leading research, and medical education with the goal of improving cancer treatment. Collaboration with industry leaders, from early stage startups to large corporations, is necessary to focus on bringing better treatments to patients.

MSK will continue to promote transparency and accountability. And we encourage industry collaboration, as it is a driving force that has led to the approval of novel, life-saving cancer treatments for countless patients across the globe.

Copyright (c) 2018 The Cancer Letter Inc.