José (Pepe) was born in Barcelona, Spain on July 3rd of 1959. He was the eldest of four in a family of physicians. His father, Manuel Baselga, was a pioneer in occupational health and legal medicine and his mother, Esther Torres, was a nurse. It was no surprise to anyone who knew him that José picked medicine as a career. Eager to improve the life expectancy for patients with cancer – a disease that at the time was a death sentence – he specialized in oncology.
Throughout his career, he oscillated between Spain and the United States. At different points of his life, he was the founder and president of Vall D’Hebron Insitute of Oncology (VHIO), the Chief of Hematology Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Physician-in-Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and finally, the head of Oncology Research and Development at AstraZeneca (AZ). Though these roles varied greatly, for him, they all shared a mission: to bridge basic and clinical science with the aim of saving and improving the lives of cancer patients. At every stage of his career, patients fueled his passion. Through his research and clinical practice, he helped develop 14 cancer medicines, including trastuzumab, which became the standard of care for many HER2+ breast cancer patients.
While his fight against cancer was at the center of his academic life, his family was the core of every other part of his life. He married his wife and best friend Silvia in 1990, and had four children: Marc, Clara, Alex, and Pepe. He loved skiing, riding dirt bikes, and playing tennis with them. To his children, he transmitted his joie de vivre, his love for reading, and constant curiosity. He was an active participant in every single one of his children’s dreams, and let his children be a part of his dreams as well.
José passed away from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in his home in the Catalan Pyrenees in Spain on March 21st of 2021. He spent the last three months of his life surrounded by his children and wife, mother, and siblings. He faced each day with dignity and determination, and knew he was deeply loved by friends and family around the world.
When the opportunity to develop a documentary film about José’s life came up, we smiled just thinking about how excited he – who loved the camera nearly as much as it loved him – would have been. What we did not realize was that, in re-telling his story through memories, and getting to hear his colleagues and patients do the same, we’d begin to heal.
In the documentary: José Baselga: Cancer’s Fiercest Opponent, Chris Valentino, with support from AstraZeneca, seamlessly captures José’s simultaneous heat and tenderness, his dedication to his patients and family, his biggest wins and most difficult moments.