UCSF chancellor

Susan Desmond-Hellmann is resigning as UC San Francisco's chancellor to head the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Elisabeth Fall / UCSF)

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, chancellor of the medical-oriented UC San Francisco since 2009, is resigning to become chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity that has been active worldwide on health issues.

Desmond-Hellmann will leave UC in March, and a search committee for her replacement is expected to begin work in January, according to an announcement Tuesday by UC system President Janet Napolitano. The dean of the campus medical school, Sam Hawgood, will serve as UCSF's interim chancellor until a permanent chancellor is hired. 

An oncologist, Desmond-Hellmann previously held high executive positions at biotechnology giant Genentech Inc. and was key in the development of cancer therapies there, officials said. At UC, she kept the San Francisco campus first in the nation among public universities receiving research funding from the National Institutes of Health and helped develop a new children's hospital, Napolitano said.

Desmond-Hellmann "will leave UCSF a better, more vibrant institution than when she arrived in 2009. This is the true measurement of leadership," Napolitano said in a statement.

Desmond-Hellmann had raised some eyebrows among UC traditionalists last year when she proposed a new governance plan that would have given the San Francisco campus more independence from the UC system, especially in areas of finance. The UC regents did not approve her proposal.

Some of her supporters thought Desmond-Hellmann should have been a candidate to become UC system president, the job that went this year to Napolitano, the former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security.

In a letter to her UCSF colleagues, Desmond-Hellmann said she was attracted to the Gates' foundation work to ease poverty and improve health in developing countries. "My hope is that my leadership can contribute to creating a more equitable world," she wrote. 

The Gates foundation, founded by the Microsoft chairman and his wife, has assets of more than $38 billion and is thought to be the largest private foundation in the world.

[For the record, 2:38 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled Susan Desmond-Hellmann's name as Desmond-Hellman.]

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