Susan Desmond-Hellmann

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Susan Desmond-Hellmann
in 2010 in Seattle
Occupation CEO
Known for Expert on issues of higher education, public health, drug development, regulatory innovation and health policy
Board member of Facebook[1]

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

On December 17, 2013 The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it had selected Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., as its next chief executive officer. Desmond-Hellmann assumed her role on May 1, 2014.

She was previously UCSF chancellor, appointed by UC President Mark Yudof on May 7, 2009, and held the post from August 3, 2009 to March 2014.[2] She became the first woman chancellor of the nearly 150-year-old university. While chancellor, Desmond-Hellmann, an oncologist and biotechnology leader, held the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Distinguished Professorship at UCSF and oversaw all aspects of the university and medical center’s strategy and operations.

Before that she was president of product development at Genentech (March 2004 through April 30, 2009), where she was credited for her role in the development of two of the first gene-targeted therapies for cancer, Avastin and Herceptin. Desmond-Hellmann also served as a member of Genentech’s executive committee, beginning in 1996.

Desmond-Hellmann is a recognized leader on issues of higher education, public health, drug development, regulatory innovation and health policy.

Career highlights[edit]

Desmond-Hellmann joined Genentech in 1995 as a clinical scientist, and she was named chief medical officer in 1996. In 1999, Desmond-Hellmann was named executive vice president of development and product operations.

Prior to joining Genentech, Desmond-Hellmann was associate director of clinical cancer research at Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute. While at Bristol-Myers Squibb, she was the project team leader for Taxol.

Desmond-Hellmann also has served as associate adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. During her tenure at UCSF, Desmond-Hellmann spent two years as visiting faculty at the Uganda Cancer Institute, studying AIDS and cancer. She also spent two years in private practice before returning to clinical research.

In April 2012, Desmond-Hellmann was honored with the Commonwealth Club of California’s 2012 Distinguished Citizen Award for her leadership at UCSF and Genentech.

In October 2010, she was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In January 2009, Desmond-Hellmann joined the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Economic Advisory Council for a three-year term.

She was named UCSF’s first woman chancellor and took the helm of the graduate health sciences university in August, 2009.

In July 2008, Desmond-Hellmann was appointed to the California Academy of Sciences Board of Trustees.

She was named to the Biotech Hall of Fame in 2007 and Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Woman of the Year for 2006. Desmond-Hellmann was listed among Fortune magazine’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business in 2001 and from 2003 to 2008. From 2004 to 2006, the Wall Street Journal listed Desmond-Hellmann as one of its Women to Watch.

From 2005 to 2008, Desmond-Hellmann served a three-year term as a member of the American Association for Cancer Research board of directors, and from 2001 to 2009, she served on the executive committee of the board of directors of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Desmond-Hellmann has served on the corporate board of Affymetrix since 2004.[3]

Leader in precision medicine[edit]

In 2011, Desmond-Hellmann co-chaired a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee that recommended creating a Google maps-like data network aimed at developing more diagnostics and treatments tailored to individual patients — a concept known as “precision medicine.”

The so-called “knowledge network” would integrate the wealth of data emerging on the molecular basis of disease with information on environmental factors and patients’ electronic medical records.

The data network would allow scientists to share emerging research findings faster, thereby accelerating the development of tailored treatments. It also would allow clinicians to make more informed decisions about treatments, reduce health care costs and ultimately improve care.[4]

The NAS report, titled “ Toward Precision Medicine: Building a Knowledge Network for Biomedical Research and a New Taxonomy of Disease],” [PDF] was the result of a one-year study conducted at the special request of Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health. It has been described as “the most important National Academy of Sciences Framework Analysis since that advisory body recommended that the United States go forward with the Human Genome Project.”

In her editorial, reported in the April 11, 2012, issue of “Science Translational Medicine,” Desmond-Hellmann calls on patient advocates to work with policy makers in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere to develop regulations that would more efficiently link patient information between research and clinical care settings, while continuing to protect patient privacy. Sharing the information is a key component of the proposed data network and could accelerate medical advances.


Desmond-Hellmann received her residency training at UCSF, where she served as chief resident. She is board-certified in internal medicine and medical oncology. She holds a bachelor of science degree in pre-medicine and a medical degree from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a master's degree in public health from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Because she joined the faculty at the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, Desmond-Hellmann worked on Kaposi’s sarcoma. UCSF sent both Desmond-Hellmann and her husband, an infectious disease doctor, to Uganda where they studied and treated patients with infectious diseases and Kaposi’s sarcoma at the Uganda Cancer Institute in a project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.


In June 2010, Desmond-Hellmann sold her stock in the Altria Group stock, which owns Phillip Morris USA and other tobacco companies, and subsequently donated $134,000 to the tobacco control center at UCSF, where she was chancellor. She made this sale one day after being questioned about it by The New York Times. She claimed that many stocks had been bought by her broker and that she was too busy as chancellor although she had written the stock on her financial disclosure statement.[5][6]

A more recent, and more important controversy relates to Desmond-Hellmann's proposal, in January 2012, for changing the tight and fundamental relationship that exists between the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF,) a health sciences university, and the University of California (UC) as a whole.[7] The change would seek to redefine the financial obligations of UCSF to the UC system and also would seek a new business model.[8] In a recent radio appearance,[9] Desmond-Hellmann explained that the change would create partnerships between UCSF and private pharmaceutical corporations and others to be able to bring more revenue to UCSF and solve its projected financial difficulties in the near future.[8]


Desmond-Hellmann grew up in Reno, Nevada as one of seven children. Her father worked as a pharmacist and her mother was an English teacher. She earned her medical degree in Reno and attended the UCSF University of California, San Francisco for her residency training medical school, where she served as chief resident

Desmond-Hellmann married Nicholas Hellmann in 1987. They practiced in Uganda for two years before moving to Kentucky before they moved to Connecticut to work for Bristol-Meyers. Desmond-Hellmann has appeared and gave a talk at the Jewish Community Endowment Fund in San Francisco.[10]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "UCSF profiles - Susan Desmond-Hellmann". 
  3. ^ "Official Biography from UCSF". Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  4. ^ "NAS Report Calls for Building Biomedical Knowledge Network to Drive Precision Medicine". Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  5. ^ Wilson, Duff (June 30, 2010). "Chancellor’s Slip Benefits Tobacco Research". The New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2011. 
  6. ^ Duff Wilson (June 29, 2010). "University Chief Is Selling Tobacco Holdings". The New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2011. 
  7. ^ Asimov, Nanette (January 20, 2012). "UCSF seeks to ease ties with UC". SF Gate. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Cisneros, Lisa. "Chancellor Proposes New Approach to Secure UCSF’s Financial Future". UCSF. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Krasny, Michael. "UCSF May Step Away From UC System". KQED Radio. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  10. ^ "Innovation in the Era of Health Care Reform". YouTube. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 

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