Author(s): Moshe Elkabets1 and Giovanni Blandino2
On March 21st, 2021, one of the most remarkable leaders in oncology Dr. José Baselga - friend, colleague and mentor - passed away before his time. The entire cancer research and oncology community was shocked by the premature death of José, who for three decades led the therapeutic revolution towards personalized/precision medicine using targeted therapies. José's ability to envisage treatment in the years ahead led him to become one of the best-known leaders in drug development in medical oncology.
At the age of 27, after graduation from the University of Autonoma de Barcelona, military service duty, and a year of residency at Vall d'Hebron hospital in Barcelona, José moved to New York to start his career as a breast cancer oncologist and researcher. By day, José dedicated his time to treating cancer patients at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and by night and on holidays, to exploring new treatments in the lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). José was especially intrigued by the molecular mechanisms of the response to anti-cancer therapies, and this curiosity and hunger for knowledge accompanied him throughout his extraordinary career.
In 1989, at the age of 30, José moved to MSK to work in the clinic with Larry Norton and in the laboratory with John Mendelsohn to investigate the anti-tumor activity of therapies that block the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and HER2 on cancer cell lines. In the lab, José demonstrated the relevance of blocking EGFR in lung and breast cancer [1-3], and in a work that was published in JNCI 1993, he provided the rationale for combining an anti-EGFR antibody therapy (cetuximab) with chemotherapy. In addition, he demonstrated, in the lab, how overexpression of HER2 limited the efficacy of chemotherapies in breast cancer [4, 5]. As a resident, José led many clinical trials and showed the potential of targeting HER2 in breast cancer patients with HER2 overexpression and of targeting EGFR using cetuximab in EGFR-overexpressing tumors [6-8]. José's achievements in designing and running clinical trials and in performing translational research laid down the grounds for his subsequent career as a prominent oncologist and drug developer.
In 1996, José became the Chairman of Medical and Radiation Oncology and Hematology at Vall d'Hebron Hospital in his hometown, Barcelona, and ten years later, he founded the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO). As a director of VHIO, José furthered his vision of promoting translational research by building the bed-to-bench culture. To this end, he hired extremely talented basic researchers, supervised them to become translational researchers, and trained medical oncologists to deliver science-driven trials. Joan Albanell, Miguel Angel Molina and José Tabernero were a few of many talented first generation of mentees who worked with José at Vall d'Hebron. The impressive clinical and translational research activities at VHIO built the reputation of the center and that of José in concert. Between 2000 and 2010, José led or was involved in over 110 publications of Phase I and Phase II studies...