A Grim Look at the Tragedy that Unfolded at NYC’s Sloan Kettering Hospital
Dr. José Baselga, who held a chief position at New York City’s Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was the focus of a previous article that appeared in the Jewish Voice in September. Prompted by a page one article in the New York Times, it appears that the doctor did not disclose that he received millions in kickback payments from pharmaceutical companies.
The New York Times has now reported that Dr. Baselga has decided to “play for the other team” and has accepted a job as head of research and development in oncology for AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish drug manufacturer.
On Monday, the pharmaceutical giant publicly announced that Dr. Baselga was currently in their employ. R&D in oncology is a unit within the company that was recently created. According to the NYT, the unit is a clear indicator that the drug company is shifting its focus toward cancer treatments.
In a statement, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, described Dr. Baselga as “an outstanding scientific leader.” “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,” he said.
Dr. Baselga stepped down in September from his role as chief medical officer at the cancer center after The New York Times and ProPublica reported that he had failed to accurately disclose his conflicts of interest in dozens of articles in medical journals. He later resigned from the boards of the drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and the radiation equipment manufacturer Varian Medical Systems, according to the NYT report.
In September, the Jewish Voice reported that in the dozens of articles that Dr. Baselga penned for such prestigious publications as The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, he had omitted that he was accepting payments from various drug and health care companies.
Since 2014, Dr. Baselga has received $3 million in consulting fees from Roche.
An analysis conducted by the New York Times and ProPublica resulted in the determination that Dr. Baselga was negligent in complying with financial disclosure rules that are mandated by the American Association for Cancer Research when he was the president of the group.
As one of the two editors for “Cancer Discovery” – the AACR’s medical journal, the paper reported that Dr. Baselga also did not include in his articles any information about the payments that he has been the recipient of from various companies that are linked to the field of cancer research.
The NYT reported that at a 2017 conference, Dr. Baselga had portrayed the results of two clinical drug trials sponsored by Roche quite favorably but had not disclosed that he had a working relationship with the company. Many of his medical contemporaries had viewed the results of the trials as disappointments.
For his part, Dr. Baselga did not deny that he had relationships with dozens of drug companies and in an interview with the New York Times, he had said that the omission of such payments was an oversight and not meant to be intentional.
About 10 years ago, information began emerging that the pharmaceutical industry was having a covert influence on drug research. This, in turn, aroused the ethics concerns of the medical community in terms of strengthening its conflict of interest requirements.
Respected figures in the medical community have posited that bias can occur if outside drug companies wield too much influence with researchers and doctors and can determine the manner in which clinical studies are designed and medications are prescribed to patients.
According to the NYT article, the AACR has instituted consequences for doctors who violate the disclosure rules. Although some consider the penalty not severe, the organization has told its journal authors that they would face a three-year ban on publishing articles if they are found to have non-disclosed financial arrangements with drug companies.
Since 2013, Dr. Baselga has held board memberships with at least six drug companies according to the NYT report. In his role as a board member, the doctor has been required to protect the financial interests of the companies that he had worked with, yet simultaneously he oversees the operations of the cancer center.
Although Memorial Sloan Kettering has said that Dr. Baselga was not fired, hospital leaders have indicated that he was forced out. In October, Douglas A. Warner III, then the chairman of the cancer center’s board, told the staff that Dr. Baselga’s actions “left us no choice.”
Son the conclusion here is quite clear. One not only needs to be pro-active when seeking medical care, but one must be vigilant in selecting doctors who actually seek to treat them, help cure them and not feed them a seemingly never ending supply of medications in order to keep the kickback money rolling in from the pharmaceutical companies.
It appears that cancer patients, many of whom are so understandably desperate to be on a treatment regime that will send their illness into remission, are the most vulnerable here as it pertains to taking drug cocktails or winding up as a guinea pig for the drug companies.
An unethical physician who does not adhere to rules and regulations regarding the reportage of kickback money is clearly pandering to the promotional agenda of those doling out the dough. His/her patient’s needs may come in a close second but they are still not the chief priority. We all know that money corrupts, but saving people’s lives is integral to Hippocratic Oath that physicians took upon beginning their practice.
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