Congratulations to Susan Desmond-Hellman, former president for Genentech’s product development, on being nominated for a seat as chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).

Ms. Desmond-Hellman is a 51 year-old oncologist who spent 14 years at Genentech and had a brilliant career there, lately overseeing the trials of Herceptin, Rituxan and Avastin – among other blockbuster cancer drugs. Genentech, the leader in drug development for cancer treatment, was recently taken over by Roche. This created the number 7 drug company in the U.S. with revenues approaching $17 billion.

An important concern for Roche after the takeover was precisely trying to keep the independent biotech firm from becoming an unwelcoming place for the stars who made it the number one cancer research and development company. Apparently Roche is still struggling to hit the right tone. Pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting teams have been brought in by Roche to help with Genentech’s take over.

If approved by the UC board on May 7, Ms. Desmond-Hellman will become the first woman chancellor, and also the first chancellor with a private industry, for-profit pedigree. She would be commanding a staff of 21,500 and a budget of $2.5 billion. UC is the second-largest winner of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.

This nomination is a crowning achievement for Ms. Desmond-Hellman, who began her career at UCSF and must be thrilled to come back. She is a high-powered pharmaceutical industry star, whose last reported annual compensation was $8.4 million for 2007. Her base salary was around $650,000.

NIH research funds come from the federal U.S. budget and have been an important source of financing for the research and development of new drugs and treatments. The debate on whether it’s federal funding or private enterprise that accelerates innovation in biomedical sciences will rage for still some time to come, but Ms. Desmond-Hellman is a true example of someone who’s been on both sides of the fence, actually experiencing the systems and their efficacy.  No doubt, should she be confirmed by the formal votes, through her direction and actions she will contribute much to a better understanding of the U.S. biomedical research and development machine.