In general, sponsored research and consulting can be important because they can bring value to medicine and patients, medical ethicist Matthew McCoy, PhD, told Cancer Therapy Advisor. Dr McCoy is an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “Academic researchers have really important expertise, and I think that we want drug companies to be availing themselves of that expertise.”

However, he pointed out, “Other things, like physicians and academic researchers being on speakers bureaus or being on the governing board of for-profit entities — I don’t really see the positive return for research or patients there, and I don’t think that those are the kinds of relationships that academic researchers should be participating in.”

While serving as CMO of his institution, Dr Baselga was also on the board at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Varian Medical Systems, where he had a fiduciary responsibility to the companies. Complicating matters more, Varian Medical Systems sells radiation equipment, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center was a customer of Varian’s.

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Dr Baselga has since resigned from both boards and said he will correct his disclosures for 17 articles, leaving many dozens uncorrected because he asserted no disclosure was necessary. 2,3 On October 1, 2018, The New England Journal of Medicine issued a correction for the 2 articles in which Dr Baselga added conflicts of interest. The journal’s editors wrote that Dr Baselga’s failure to report his “multiple, substantial financial associations” was a “breach of trust.”4

“It’s an important step in the right direction,” Dr McCoy said about the disclosures. However, Dr McCoy stressed that certain positions Dr Baselga has held — namely, his roles serving on company boards — are “really problematic.”

“Disclosure is important, but we need to shift some of our energy that’s currently focused on disclosure to a broader discussion about what kind of academic-industry relationships are actually appropriate,” said Dr McCoy. “I think there’s sometimes this sense that anything is fair game as long as it’s properly disclosed, and I don’t think that’s the right approach to take.”

References

  1. Ornstein C and Thomas K. Top cancer researcher fails to disclose corporate financial ties in major research journals. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/doctor-jose-baselga-cancer-researcher-corporate-financial-ties. Published September 8, 2018. Accessed September 24, 2018.
  2. Ornstein C and Thomas K. Top official at Memorial Sloan Kettering resigns after failing to disclose industry ties. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/memorial-sloan-kettering-official-jose-baselga-resigns-after-failing-to-disclose-industry-ties. Published September 13, 2018. Accessed September 24, 2018.
  3. MarketScreener. Varian Medical Systems Inc: Change in directors or principal officers (form 8-K). Accessed September 24, 2018.
  4. Hyman DM, Puzanov I, Subbiah V, et al. Vemurafenib in multiple nonmelanoma cancers with BRAF V600 mutations; von Minckwitz G, Procter M, de Azambuia E, et al. Adjuvant pertuzumab and trastuzumab in early HER2-positive breast cancer [published correction appears in N Engl J Med. Published online October 1, 2018. doi: 10.1056/NEJMx180036