The chief medical officer at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Dr. Jose Baselga, forgot to disclose the millions of dollars that he received from Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb and others for his work on cancer therapies and break-through drugs, a requirement of the American Association for Cancer Research. In addition, the compensation and relationships with the drug companies were not disclosed in research articles published in Cancer Discovery. Also, Dr. Baselga did not make the disclosures when he served as editor-in-chief of Cancer Discovery. Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas, “A Top Doctor Didn’t Disclose Corporate Ties,” New York Times, September 9, 2018, p. A1.
In conferences in 2017 and 2018, Dr. Baselga put positive spins on Roche-sponsored clinical trials without disclosing his Roche ties and compensation. Many physicians considered the trials to be disappointments. Dr. Baselga says that his relationships were public knowledge. And he added what all those whose conflicts are revealed: “While I have been inconsistent with disclosures and acknowledge that fact, that is a far cry from compromising my responsibilities as a physician, as a scientist and as a clinical leader.” In other words, “How could you think that I would ever compromise my integrity as a researcher?” I will give Dr. Baselga that he has more integrity on his research than any physician who has ever walked the earth. That assumption arguendo changes nothing. There was still a conflict, and the only remedies for a conflict are not doing the conduct or disclosure BEFORE the newspapers publish it. The disclosures in the case of research are for us and others so that we can evaluate the design, conduct, and conclusions of the research GIVEN the conflicts. But, we need to know that before we read and analyze, not after.
A Sloan Kettering spokeswoman said that Dr. Baselga had made all the required disclosures about his financial ties to the hospital. However, the spokeswoman also noted that it was Dr. Baselga’s responsibility to make the proper disclosures to the 17 journals in which his work has been published sans those disclosures.
The CEO of Sloan Kettering, Dr. Craig B. Thompson settled lawsuits brought by the University of Pennsylvania and an affiliated research center over a disputed allegation that he hid research conducted while he was at the University of Pennsylvania in order to start a new company on the basis of that research and not have to share the earnings.
When asked about the extensive relationships between physicians at Sloan Kettering and the drug companies, the spokeswoman noted that Sloan Kettering cannot fulfill its charitable mission without working closely with corporations.
The journals noted that they do not have the resources to check on author disclosures and that they rely on “trust and integrity.” Don’t we all? ‘Tis is a shame we simply no longer can.