AZ appoints controversial doctor to lead new oncology unit

AstraZeneca has a new and controversial oncology head after the departure of two key leaders led to a management reshuffle.

CEO Pascal Soriot has picked cancer doctor José Baselga as the company’s new oncology R&D head – and while no-one would argue with his credentials as a scientist, the appointment comes only months after Baselga resigned as chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center after becoming embroiled in a scandal over undisclosed payments from industry.

Baselga, 59, resigned from the post in September 2018 after the New York Times and Pro Publica revealed he had not disclosed millions of dollars in payments from healthcare firms.

Acknowledging that he failed to disclose links to the companies in his medical journal articles and professional meetings, Baselga also resigned from the board of Bristol-Myers Squibb at the time.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson told Reuters that the validity of Baselga’s research was not under question.

The spokesperson added that the payments have now been disclosed and the relevant papers corrected.

“We think that has been dealt with. He corrected the papers and…this is the next phase in his career,” the spokesperson told Reuters.

José Baselga

José Baselga

Baselga will lead a newly-created oncology R&D unit created by Soriot as two key execs left for pastures new.

Mark Mallon, who has been leading AZ’s product and portfolio strategy, is set to become the new CEO of US-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.

In a shake-up of its own, Ironwood’s founder and incumbent CEO Peter Hecht is going to head Cyclerion, which is separating from Ironwood later this year and focuses on rare disease R&D.

After the split Mallon will take over as CEO at Ironwood, which markets irritable bowel syndrome drug Linzess (linaclotide).

Late last week it emerged that Bahija Jallal is leaving her role as president of AZ’s biologics unit MedImmune, to become CEO of UK biotech Immunocore.

Following the moves, Soriot has created two new area focused R&D units in the company, one for cardiovascular, renal, and metabolism biopharmaceuticals, and the other led by Baselga focusing on oncology.

These will be mirrored by their own dedicated commercial units.

The biopharma unit will be led by Mene Pangalos, who was previously responsible for early development of drugs.

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