Based in the United States, he was medical director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and director of the Vall d’Hebron Oncology Institute
The Barcelona oncologist Josep Baselga has died this Sunday, sources from the Vall d’Hebron hospital in Barcelona have informed Europa Press.
According to ‘La Vanguardia’, Baselga, who was currently director of the Research and Development (R&D) area for Oncology at the AstraZeneca company, has died at the age of 61. Baselga had recently been diagnosed with a neurological disease.
Baselga suffered from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rapidly evolving degenerative neurological disorder, and has died at his home in La Cerdanya Catalana (northeast), as reported by the newspaper La Vanguardia.
Based in the United States, he was medical director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and director of the Vall d’Hebron Oncology Institute.
His motto was that research advances must reach patients as soon as possible
His motto was that “research advances must reach patients as soon as possible.” Throughout his more than 30-year career, he has consistently succeeded in turning an ever-better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of cancer into clinical advances that have improved the treatment of multiple tumor types.
Born in Barcelona in 1959, he had specialized as an oncologist at the Vall d’Hebron hospital. he decided to expand his training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, where he focused on treating breast cancer. There he was at the forefront of the development of molecular therapies against cancer, which represented a revolution in the treatment of tumors.
Unlike radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which attack healthy and diseased cells interchangeably, molecular therapies act selectively against tumor cells. Passionate about biology, Baselga devoted much of his career to understanding how cancer cells work and finding their vulnerabilities to attack with drugs.
Josep Baselga, during his time as a doctor in Barcelona Pedro (Madueño)He was very active in the clinical development of trastuzumab (or Herceptin), the first molecular therapy to be approved and which changed the perspective of breast cancer treatment. He then participated in the development of a large number of other molecular therapies, including cetuximab (used, among others, for colorectal and head and neck cancers), pertuzumab (for breast cancers), and lapatinib (also for breast cancers).
It turned the Vall d’Hebron public hospital into a benchmark cancer center in Europe
In 1996 he returned to Spain to reform and direct the oncology service of the Vall d’Hebron hospital. He made the hospital one of the reference centers for oncology in Europe; created the Molecular Therapy Research Unit (UITM-Fundación la Caixa), which today is recognized as one of the world leaders in phase I clinical trials of new anticancer drugs; and founded the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), in which more than 150 researchers work today.
In 2016, the Generalitat of Catalonia, together with doctors Manel Esteller and Joan Massagué, awarded him the XXVIII Catalunya International Prize for his “revolutionary task, especially in cancer research, which contributes significantly to the advancement of biomedicine worldwide”.
Baselga, who had advisory roles with Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, among other corporations, was involved in start-ups testing cancer therapies and played a key role in developing drugs that revolutionized breast cancer treatments.
After 14 years in Barcelona, he joined the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2010 to head the Oncology-Hematology division. Two years later, he returned to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York as medical director.
With an overwhelming character, with the ambition to advance quickly against cancer, and with little patience to stop before obstacles, throughout his career he won admirers but also detractors. He was forced to resign in September 2018, after an article published in The New York Times accused him of not having disclosed conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies in some of the scientific articles he had published. Baselga always defended his innocence. None of those scientific articles have been withdrawn nor have their results ever been questioned.
He joined the AstraZeneca company at the beginning of 2019, as director of the Cancer Research and Development (R&D) area. He was based in Gaithersburg(Maryland), in the Washington metropolitan area. Since the start of the pandemic, he had redirected part of his research to developing therapies against COVID based on his experience in cancer.
In his last public appearance, in El món a RAC1. On November 2, when the efficacy and safety results of any vaccine against covid were not yet known, he predicted with his usual optimism – and was right – that “before the end of the year there will be more than one vaccine available.” He said that “we will have a horrible winter” and that “in summer we will be able to have a relatively normal life.” At the time, he did not know yet that he would not get to see the summer.
“I spent my career caring for cancer patients and bringing new therapies to the clinic with the aim of extending and saving lives,” Baselga said at the time, admitting: “Although I have been inconsistent with the revelations and I recognize that fact, that is far from compromise my responsibilities as a physician, scientist, and clinical leader.
Dr. Josep Tabernero, current director of the VHIO and head of the Medical Oncology Service of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, highlighted this Sunday the “rigor” that Baselga had in applying “the scientific spirit, his passion for knowledge and innovation »As well as their ability to create teams that have the same capacity to work against cancer.
“Thanks to his vision and tenacity to advance personalized medicine in cancer treatment, it was essential for many drugs to have been introduced into routine clinical practice when at the beginning pharmaceutical companies had doubts about whether to continue developing them,” he highlighted Innkeeper.
As soon as he learned the diagnosis of his illness, he decided to spend the last weeks of his life in Catalonia. He died surrounded by his family in his home in La Cerdanya.