The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche is turning to a prolific American academic scientist to revitalize its lagging research operations. Dr. John C. Reed, the chief executive of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in San Diego, will become head of Roche's pharmaceutical research and early development group in April, the company announced Tuesday. Dr. Reed, 54, has spent 21 years at Sanford-Burnham, formerly known as the Burnham Institute, the last 11 as chief executive. During his tenure as chief executive, the institute grew rapidly, opened a new research site in Florida, and broadened its role from basic research to also doing drug discovery, in some cases in collaborations with pharmaceutical companies. It also received its largest donation ever, $50 million, from the credit card industry executive T. Denny Sanford, which led the institute to change its name. Dr. Reed, 54, who holds both a medical degree and a Ph.D., is the author of more than 800 scientific papers, many dealing with why cancer cells do not commit suicide as errant cells are supposed to do. A triathlete, Dr. Reed used to get to his office around 3:30 a.m. each day, though now, with better computers, he works at home in the early hours. "With his broad scientific and medical background, he is ideally positioned to drive Roche's strategy of translating a better understanding of disease mechanisms into promising therapeutics," Severin Schwan, the chief of Roche, said in a statement. It is not unprecedented for drug companies to tap academic scientists to run research. Sanofi's research and development is now run by Elias Zerhouni, the former director of the National Institutes of Health and professor at Johns Hopkins. Mark Fishman, a cardiologist at Harvard, was recruited to run research at Novartis, and Peter S. Kim, who heads research at Merck, was previously a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.