Tech Tonics: Susan Desmond-Hellmann, The Inquisitive Leader


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Her illustrious career has taken her from clinician to biotech executive to university chancellor to CEO of the world’s largest foundation, yet throughout this exceptional journey, Susan Desmond-Hellmann has remained empathetic, inquisitive, and emphatically true to herself.

Growing up in Reno, Nevada as one of seven children, Sue was inspired by her father, a pharmacist, and her mother, a teacher; she said she always wanted to be a doctor, but even so, she could not have predicted the direction and velocity of her subsequent career.

In today’s far-ranging discussion, Sue talks about how she discovered her passion for oncology; her introduction to and involvement in the HIV-AIDS crisis; how she and her husband Nick have supported each other across the ups and downs of their often-overlapping careers; their transition to pharma; her return to academia at UCSF after an exceptional decade and a half in industry; and. now as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, her perspective on the future of public health — a view that leverages quantitative data and focuses on precision and personalization.

This is a captivating conversation that touches on translational research, executive leadership, and public health, as well as the person behind the success story. David and I spoke to Sue from her home in Washington State and were thrilled to have her on the show.

Today’s episode is sponsored by IDEA pharma, the industry’s leading path-to-market strategy practice, bring more medicines to patients. You can find them at:

Show Notes:

This is the commentary about orphan drugs cited by David.

This Forbes column from David asks how to leverage data and analytics (as Sue proposes) without fetishizing them.

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