Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, a physician, pioneering cancer researcher and successful biotechnology industry executive, became chancellor of UCSF on Aug. 3, 2009.
Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH
Desmond-Hellmann is UCSF’s ninth chancellor and the first woman appointed to the top leadership post of the health sciences university. She holds an appointment as Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Distinguished Professor. She succeeded J. Michael Bishop, MD, a Nobel laureate who served as UCSF chancellor for 11 years.
In her role as Chancellor, Desmond-Hellmann oversees all aspects of the University's and medical center’s strategy and operations. Since taking the helm, Desmond-Hellmann has overseen an in-depth review of the University’s business model, developed a three-year strategic plan with associated goals, supported the creation of research partnerships with industry leaders such as Pfizer and Bayer, and appointed UCSF’s first Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Outreach. In 2013, she formed the UCSF National Leadership Council, a distinguished advisory group of renowned leaders from health care, biomedical sciences and technology to partner with her and her leadership team to guide the future of UCSF.
She also has been actively involved in shaping biomedical policy. In 2011, the chancellor co-chaired a National Academies committee that produced the report, “Toward Precision Medicine: Building a Knowledge Network for Biomedical Research and a New Taxonomy of Disease.” She also served as a member of the National Institutes of Health’s advisory committee on the National Center for Advancing Translational Science.
Born in Napa, Calif., as one of seven siblings, Desmond-Hellmann calls herself a “small-town girl” at heart. She was raised in Reno, Nev., where she spent time as a youngster in her father’s pharmacy, listening to his daily chats with family doctors, which sparked her interest in a medical career.
After earning a bachelor of science degree in pre-medicine and a medical degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, Desmond-Hellmann arrived at UCSF in 1982 as an intern, and said that the experience transformed her life.
Desmond-Hellmann completed her clinical training at UCSF, where she met her husband, and then served on the UCSF faculty as associate adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. She spent two years as visiting faculty at the Uganda Cancer Institute, studying HIV/AIDS and cancer, and later worked two years in private practice as a medical oncologist before returning to clinical research.
Before rejoining UCSF as chancellor, she served as president of product development at Genentech from March 2004 through April 2009. In this role, she was responsible for Genentech’s preclinical and clinical development, process research and development, business development and product portfolio management. During her time there, several of the company’s patient therapeutics (Lucentis, Avastin, Herceptin, Tarceva, Rituxan and Xolair) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the company became the nation’s No. 1 producer of anticancer drug treatments. BayBio honored Desmond-Hellmann with a biotechnology lifetime achievement award in 2009.
Susan Desmond-Hellmann signs the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Book of Members after being inducted into the academy in October 2010.
Her return to UCSF in August 2009 to take the helm was like a homecoming to the University that helped shape her, both personally and professionally, and to the San Francisco neighborhood where her father’s family first settled when they immigrated to the United States.
Desmond-Hellmann is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. In November 2009, Forbes magazine named her one of the world's seven most "powerful innovators," calling her "a hero to legions of cancer patients." She was listed among Fortune magazine’s “top 50 most powerful women in business” for seven years and, in 2010, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and elected to the Institute of Medicine. In June 2011, Princeton University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
In December 2010, Desmond-Hellmann was appointed to the board of directors of Procter & Gamble (P&G) and, in November 2012, she was elected a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She also serves on the California Academy of Sciences board of trustees and the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation’s board of directors. In 2013, she was appointed to the board of directors of the social networking company Facebook.
One of her favorite inspirational quotes from American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison sums up her own life: “If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
Desmond-Hellmann is board-certified in internal medicine and medical oncology, and earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Photo by Elisabeth Fall/fallfoto.com