Genentech's ex-R&D boss takes the reins at the Gates Foundation

Incoming Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Susan Desmond-Hellmann

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has picked Susan Desmond-Hellmann to lead as its next CEO, bringing the Genentech veteran's years of experience in drug development and academia to one of the largest charitable organizations in the world.

For the past four years, Desmond-Hellmann has served as the chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, where she led an effort to focus on translational research, leaning on industry magnates like Sanofi ($SNY) and Pfizer ($PFE) to help build a ready-to-partner biotech hub. Before that, Desmond-Hellmann made her name in the hallowed halls of pre-Roche ($RHHBY) Genentech, presiding over product development during some of the biotech's most fruitful years and putting her stamp on the pioneering drugs Avastin and Herceptin.

Now, come May 1, Desmond-Hellmann will take over for the retiring Jeff Raikes, steering the Gates Foundation and its roughly $40 billion endowment. The organization has developed close ties to the biopharma industry, pouring billions of dollars into neglected disease R&D projects and partnering with the likes of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Sanofi ($SNY) on vaccine development. The Gates Foundation has also been busy biotech investor, lining the pockets of companies that share its goal of advancing therapies for the world's poorest patients.

Desmond-Hellmann is an oncologist by training, and, as one of her soon-to-be-former colleagues told The Seattle Times, her years of experience crisscrossing through industry and academia make her an ideal fit for the foundation's multifaceted footprint.

"I can't imagine someone who has more relevant experience," UCSF hospital medicine chief Robert Wachter told the paper. "She understands drug development ... and how to get drugs to the people who need them."

Desmond-Hellmann has been an in-demand leader since leaving Genentech following Roche's $47 billion buyout. In addition to her chancellorship, she serves on Genentech's executive committee and has since joined the boards of directors of Proctor and Gamble ($PG) and Facebook ($FB).

"I'm excited to join such a dynamic and ambitious organization, with such a clear and focused mission--improving the lives of the world's most vulnerable," Desmond-Hellmann said in a statement.

Her latest success adds to the growing list of high-profile landings for Genentech's alumni. Former CEO Art Levinson served a stint as Apple's ($APPL) chairman and spent time on the board of Google ($GOOG) before taking the helm at Calico, the search giant's biotech bet. Ex-Genentech CFO David Ebersman filled the same role at Facebook before its record-breaking IPO, and Hal Barron, Desmond-Hellmann's eventual replacement, is on his way out of the Roche organization to join Levinson.

- read the statement
- check out the Seattle Times story

Special Reports: 2012's 25 most influential people in biopharma - Susan Desmond-Hellmann | 2010's Top 10 Women in Biotech - Susan Desmond-Hellmann