On March 21st, Dr. José Baselga, a global leader in oncology, a pioneer who promoted the concept of personalized medicine in cancer treatment, and the first director of Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), passed away. He was one of the key figures in the development of the fight against cancer worldwide. His work has made it possible for us to be where we are today in cancer treatment.
Pioneer in personalized cancer medicine
Dr. Baselga was a pioneer of personalized medicine in cancer treatment. In the 1990s, he began his research on cancer cell function and the development of less aggressive therapies for the patient, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. From the beginning, he focused on the biological foundations of diseases, long before the knowledge of advances in the identification of the human genome became available. This method of combining excellence in clinical practice and promoting applied research was adopted by Spanish hospitals and by hospitals around the world.
As explained by Dr. Tabernero, current VHIO president who worked with Dr. Baselga for many years, “his vision and tenacity to advance personalized medicine in cancer treatment was essential to the introduction of so many medicinal products into standard clinical practice, when pharmaceutical companies initially had doubts as to whether to continue developing them”.
Global Oncology Leadership
In the 1990s, Dr. Baselga was developing the first molecular therapy (trastuzumab), at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York. This therapy represented a paradigm shift in the treatment of breast cancer. After this experience, he returned to Spain in 1996, where he became Chief of the Oncology Department of Hospital Vall d’Hebron (Barcelona).
Years later, in 2006, under his leadership, the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), an international reference center carrying out basic, clinical and translational research programs, was created to make advances in the field of advanced therapies and to be able to more quickly apply laboratory innovation to actual cancer patients. In addition, Dr. Baselga also created the Molecular Therapy Research Unit, now recognized as one of the leading institutions worldwide in the development of new anticancer drugs, located in Barcelona.
In 2010, he went back to the US. where he led the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston and then returned to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as medical director.
In 2019 he became the global director of the Cancer Research and Development division at the British pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca. He held this position until his death. In addition, during the past year, Dr. Baselga worked on the development of therapies against COVID-19, to which he contributed all his years of experience in the field of oncology.
Driver of key changes in cancer research
In addition to his great vision for oncology treatment, Dr. Baselga’s leadership role led him to be elected president of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), promoting fundamental changes to meet future challenges in cancer research.
He also received many awards throughout his career, including from the Rosenthal Family Foundation, the Pezcoller Award, the Jaume I Award, the Trueta Medal and the Catalonia International Award.