Tachi Yamada, Gates Foundation’s Global Health Leader, Stepping Down in June

2/14/11Follow @xconomy

The former Big Pharma executive who ran the global health program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is moving on.

Tachi Yamada, 65, an accomplished physician/scientist and former chairman of R&D at London-based pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, joined the Seattle-based Gates Foundation as the executive director of global health back in June 2006. He plans to leave the job this June, the foundation said today in a statement, exactly five years after he started.

Yamada, as The Seattle Times pointed out today, spent much of his time at the foundation focusing on vaccines for the developing world, and on working with contacts in the pharmaceutical business to help develop low-cost treatments for poor countries. In an interview with Xconomy in July, Yamada said he considers Big Pharma “essential partners” with the foundation in its quest to create new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines, because industry has the money and know-how to implement promising ideas in a way that traditional research centers and nonprofits lack.

He had less encouraging things to say about the level of interest he saw in the biotech and venture capital communities when it comes to global health innovations.

“I have to say we haven’t seen much from the biotech community,” Yamada said at the time, adding that the traditional VC model itself has been challenged by the economic downturn.

Yamada wasn’t slinging a random arrow with that comment. Besides having longstanding contacts in the pharma industry and global health community, he maintained relationships with the venture community. While at the foundation, he served as a senior advisor to Frazier Healthcare Ventures, a $1.8 billion healthcare investment fund in Seattle, which gave him insight into what sorts of things investors wanted to back—largely treatments for first-world health conditions like cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.

The foundation noted that Yamada oversaw a period of intense growth as the global health grant portfolio tripled. He focused on infectious diseases and maternal and child health, and also oversaw the Grand Challenges Explorations program, in which the foundation bet on far-out ideas that could have big impact, yet haven’t matured enough to capture funding from traditional federal granting agencies.

“Tachi has done a great job of focusing our ability to create and deliver vaccines and other interventions to the people who need them the most,” Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, said in a statement. “He has put our global health programs on a path to success, and we look forward to building on his work.”

Over at KPLU’s Humanosphere blog, longtime global health writer Tom Paulson reports that Yamada says he hopes to stay in Seattle, and is looking into some ideas for what he might do next.

The foundation said it will begin a global search for Yamada’s successor. I have a few questions in with the foundation, and if I learn anything more, I’ll be sure to come back with an update.

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