Former Mayo oncologist loses NCI post after allegations of sexual misconduct reported

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The National Cancer Institute removed Axel Grothey, MD, from his position as co-chair of a steering committee May 27 after reports surfaced that the physician had inappropriate sexual relationships with mentees while working at Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, Medscape reported June 1. 

At NCI, Dr. Grothey was the co-chair of a steering committee that oversees funding for gastrointestinal-related clinical trials. The NCI removed the GI cancer specialist from his role after recent reports uncovered that Dr. Grothey resigned from Mayo Clinic in 2018 because of sexual relationships he had with an oncology fellow and a junior faculty member. 

"We cannot and will not tolerate sexual harassment within the agency, at research organizations that receive NIH funding, or anywhere else NIH-funded activities are conducted," Ned Sharpless, MD, NCI director, told Medscape

Prior to the reports, which have since been made public, it was unclear why Dr. Grothey left Mayo Clinic.

An internal investigation led by Mayo Clinic's human resources department concluded Dr. Grothey's "pattern of conduct demonstrated a failure on his part to establish and maintain appropriate professional boundaries with people who viewed him as a mentor," The Cancer Letter reports. At the time, Dr. Grothey was given two choices: resign or be terminated. 

The documentation became public after additional women at Mayo Clinic reported problems last year to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. Medical licensure boards in two other states also reprimanded the oncologist. In addition to the NCI, details of Dr. Grothey's behavior led to his removal from a number of other leadership positions he took on after resigning from Mayo Clinic, including at West Cancer Center in Germantown, Tenn., and OneOncology Research Network. 

In a statement to Medscape, Charanjit Rihal, MD, chair of Mayo Clinic's personnel committee, said that "all instances of sexual harassment are reported to the board of medical practice…" and that it also "provides truthful information about corrective action taken when references are requested and credentialing inquiries occur … " 

Dr. Grothey did not respond to Medscape's request for comment at the time of publication. 

Editor's note: Becker's has reached out to the National Cancer Institute and will update the report as more information becomes available. 

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