Richard H. Scheller is Executive Vice President of Research and Early Development at Genentech, where his role is to see basic research translated into the development of new treatments for human disease. Scheller was born on October 30, 1953 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He studied chemistry, first as an undergraduate, then PhD student, at the California Institute of Technology, followed by a stint in biology. In 1981, the east coast beckoned in the form of an opportunity to work on the genes responsible for behavior with Eric Kandel and Richard Axel at Columbia University – both of whom went on to win Nobel Prizes in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Scheller impressed Kandel with his desire to enter the realm of neuroscience with no previous background in the field, and his use of the new recombinant DNA techniques to identify genes encoding for signalling molecules called neuropeptides. He continued with a creative molecular biology approach to neuroscience with faculty positions at Stanford University from 1982 onward in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Molecular and Cellular Physiology, and at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University Medical Center. During this time, Scheller cloned and identified proteins responsible for controlling the release of neurotransmitters and demonstrated their importance to signalling in the nervous system, for which he shared two awards with Thomas Südhof: the W. Alden Spencer Lecture in 1993 and the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology in 1997.
In 2001, Scheller began a new career with the biotech company Genentech as Senior Vice President for Research, where he enjoyed the freedom to continue basic research and publishing new findings in cell biology, including proteins called Rab GTPases, which regulate the transport of structures within cells. He also continued teaching, and has held the position of Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California San Francisco, School of Medicine, since 2004. He became Chief Scientific Officer in 2008, responsible for developing the company’s research and drug discovery strategy, and then became Executive Vice President for Genentech Research and Early Development when Genentech merged with Roche in 2009.
Among his other awards, Scheller was made Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2000, and given the Life Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2009.