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Sue Desmond-Hellmannn is stepping down as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private funder of biomedical research. In a statement, she cited health and family reasons for the move.

Desmond-Hellmann will be replaced by Mark Suzman, the foundation’s president of global policy and advocacy and chief strategy officer, on Feb. 1.


Desmond-Hellmann said on Twitter that she was leaving the foundation’s top job with mixed emotions, calling her more than five years at its helm “easily among the most rewarding of my career.”

“This was without doubt the toughest decision of my career,” she said in the statement. “But I felt I could no longer be the CEO the foundation needs and deserves at this vital time.”

Prior to joining the foundation, Desmond-Hellmann was chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco. She is an oncologist, having treated and researched AIDS-related cancer in San Francisco and Uganda in the 1980s and early 1990s. She led the development of the first gene-targeted breast cancer drug — Herceptin — while president of Genentech.


Melinda Gates said Desmond-Hellmann’s brought all those skills to her leadership of the foundation.

“Whether we were sitting in a conference room in Seattle or spending time with farmers in southern Africa, I was always grateful for her perspective and her partnership,” she said. “Our foundation is better for the fact that Sue walked through its doors five years ago, and I wish Sue and her family all the best.”

“Her extraordinary leadership over the past five and a half years has seen both the launch of the Gates Medical Research Institute and the expansion of our work to examine poverty and economic mobility in the United States, among many other achievements,” Bill Gates said.

Suzman, a native of South Africa, joined the foundation in 2007 as director of global development policy and advocacy, becoming president in 2012 and taking on the additional responsibilities of the foundation’s first chief strategy officer in 2016.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the world’s largest funder of biomedical research; it is the world’s largest private funder of this type of research.