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Genentech Scientist to Lead Rockefeller University

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The No. 2 research official at Genentech will become the next president of Rockefeller University, in the first departure from the company’s top scientific ranks since its acquisition by Roche in March 2009.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who is executive vice president for research and the chief scientific officer at Genentech, will become the first president of Rockefeller University to come from industry, Russell L. Carson, the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said in an interview Wednesday.

Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, who will assume his new post on March 1, will succeed Paul M. Nurse, who has been president since 2003. Dr. Nurse, a Nobel laureate, announced in April that he would be returning to his native Britain to become president of the Royal Society.

Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s departure could stir new concerns that the acquisition by Roche could erode the scientific culture that has made Genentech, developer or co-developer of the cancer drugs Avastin, Rituxan and Herceptin, among the most innovative and successful biotechnology companies in the world.

In an effort to maintain that culture, Roche preserved Genentech’s research and early-stage clinical trials division as an autonomous unit run by Richard Scheller, who is Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s boss.

That has seemed to work so far. There have been significant departures from other parts of Genentech — like sales and marketing and clinical trials — but not, until now, from the top ranks of its research unit.

Last week, Roche announced a review of its operations that could lead to job cutbacks across the company. The company said it had to cut costs in part because it had suffered some setbacks in developing drugs.

Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist, said that his departure was unrelated to developments at Roche and that the scientific culture at Genentech remained intact.

“Of the top leadership in research, I’m the first person to leave and it has nothing to do with the merger,” he said, adding, “I wasn’t looking to move away. In fact, this is probably the only job that could have lured me away from Genentech.”

Dr. Scheller said in an e-mailed statement that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s departure “is part of the tradition of exchange between academia and Genentech.”

Mr. Carson, who headed the presidential search at Rockefeller, confirmed that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne had not been looking to leave Genentech. “I literally called him cold,” he said.

Mr. Carson, who is general partner at Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a private equity firm, said Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was the first choice of the search committee.
 
 

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