Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, Chief Executive Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Sue Desmond-Hellmann is a physician, scientist, and philanthropist, who has devoted her career to improving the human condition. As a pioneer in healthcare for more than 30 years, she hass driven major developments toward the eradication of disease, poverty, and inequity. She credits a move to Uganda in 1989 — to work on HIV/AIDS and cancer alongside her husband, Nick — as a turning point. “It was so profound to recognize … that all the learning I had done to become a doctor didn’t matter at all if I didn’t make a contribution,” she says.
Today, as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Desmond‑Hellmann leads the organization’s vision for a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life. Drawing on her diverse experience in both the public and private sectors, she creates an environment for talented and committed individuals to help more children and young people survive and thrive, combat infectious diseases that hit the poorest hardest, and empower people — particularly women and girls — to transform their lives.
Trained as an oncologist, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann spent 14 years at biotech firm Genentech developing a number of breakthrough medicines, including two of the first gene‑targeted therapies for cancer, Avastin and Herceptin. 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.” Her time at Genentech put her at the forefront of the precision medicine revolution, and in her current role, she champions a similar approach to global development: precision public health — getting the right interventions, to the right populations, in the right places, to save lives.
Immediately prior to joining the Foundation in 2014, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann was the first female chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), overseeing all aspects of the University’s and medical center’s strategy and operations. It was her second stint at UCSF, having completed her clinical training there in the 1980s.
Dr. Desmond-Hellmann is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. 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 2017, she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, and she serves on the board of directors at Facebook, Inc.