Leading Cancer Researcher José Baselga Dies at 61

Mar 21, 2021

José Baselga, MD, PhD, a breast cancer pioneer and executive vice president of oncology R&D at AstraZeneca, passed away on Sunday at the age of 61.

José Baselga, MD, PhD, of AstraZeneca

José Baselga, MD, PhD

José Baselga, MD, PhD, a breast cancer pioneer and executive vice president of oncology R&D at AstraZeneca, passed away on Sunday, March 21, 2021 at the age of 61.1

He is survived by his wife, Silvia, along with 4 children.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that José Baselga, executive vice president Oncology R&D, and member of our senior executive team, has passed away," Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca, said in a prepared statement.

"An outstanding scientific leader, José leaves a lasting legacy in the scientific community and here at AstraZeneca. He set our Oncology R&D function on a remarkable trajectory, and his visionary leadership, deep scientific expertise and strategic insight have delivered so many achievements that we can all be proud of and that will benefit patients’ lives in the years to come," Soriot added.

Baselga was essential to collaborations between AstraZeneca and Daiichi-Sankyo regarding the clinical development of the antibody-drug conjugates fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan-nxki (Enhertu) and datopotamab deruxtecan for the treatment of patients select cancers, Soriot continued.

In his career with AstraZeneca, Baselga led a team designed to accelerate therapeutic developments and progress with epigenetics, antibody-drug conjugates, cell therapy, and other novel oncology drugs. He was also an advocate for overcoming mechanisms of resistance to cancer therapies, as well as real-world evidence and digital tools that could impact the utility of clinical trials in oncology research.

OncLive® spoke with Baselga in 2017 in an interview during the 2017 Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Symposium on biomarker research in breast cancer. At the time, Baselga was physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center and a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.3

Prior to his time with MSK, Baselga also served as chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, and also as associate director at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center; he was also professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He had also served as chairman of medical oncology and as founding director of the Vall d ‘Hebron Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, Spain.

Baselga was also a key player in the development of trastuzumab (Herceptin), pertuzumab (Perjeta), lapatinib (Tykerb), alpelisib (Piqray), and everolimus (Afinitor) in the treatment of patients with breast cancer.

In an earlier biography of Baselga on the AACR website, he was "well known for his caring bedside manner and supportive mentorship of young physician scientists."2 He served as the president of AACR for the 2015 to 2016 term; additional duties with AACR included senior editor of Clinical Cancer Research and the founding co-editor-in-chief of Cancer Discovery.

AACR also issued the following statement following Baselga's passing:

"Dr. Baselga's death is a great loss to cancer research," said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), CEO of the AACR. "He played a leading role in the clinical trials of several therapeutics that are pillars of cancer treatment. He was a caring oncologist and supportive mentor to a whole generation of physician-scientists. He will be dearly missed through the entire world for his stellar contributions to cancer science and to the improved care of cancer patients."

Additional honors Baselga received include: the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the AACR (2008), the Mike Price Gold Medal Award from the European Association for Cancer Research (2012), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from ESMO.

"José built a world-class Oncology R&D team who will miss him dearly, just as all his colleagues will throughout our entire company," Soriot said. "José was more than a colleague to me. He was a friend, and someone I immensely respected and cherished. I will enormously miss having him alongside me, and I will continue to be inspired by his work and vision."


  1. Statement on the passing of José Baselga. AstraZeneca. News release. March 21, 2021. Accessed March 21, 2021. https://bit.ly/2NGk2Ta
  2. José Baselga, MD, PhD. American Association for Cancer Research. Accessed March 21, 2021. https://bit.ly/3rgWYs1
  3. José Baselga. AstraZeneca. Accessed March 21, 2021. https://bit.ly/2NDClbv

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