Longtime biotech entrepreneur joins Sanford Burnham Prebys as new CEO

C. Randal "Randy" Mills is the new CEO of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla.

C. Randal “Randy” Mills, the new chief executive of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, has only been on the job since July 13, but he brings more than two decades of biotech and executive experience to the position.

Mills previously served as CEO of the National Marrow Donor Program and the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Before that, he was an executive for two biotechs, one of which he co-founded.

The common denominator across those experiences, he says, was a focus on how science can benefit the public in tangible, specific ways.

“Sometimes we get very enamored by the science itself or the technology. But when you look further, what you find are people — moms and dads and husbands and wives and sons and daughters — with very real needs and with hope that we can deliver for them the cures that they need,” he said. “That’s sort of how I’ve always viewed my role as a CEO.”

Mills is now the head of an institute with a more than 40-year history and about 700 scientists and staff members. Sanford Burnham Prebys researchers are among those leading the search for new drugs targeting the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Mills, 48, moved to San Diego from Minnesota, where the National Marrow Donor Program is headquartered. He was born in the Washington, D.C., area but grew up in Florida, where he earned a doctorate in drug discovery at the University of Florida before jumping into the biotech world.

That background, he believes, make him well-suited to translate among academic researchers and the investors and executives of San Diego’s bustling biotech community.

Discoveries at Sanford Burnham Prebys have led to 35 start-ups and more than 1,000 patents.

“That’s something I really enjoy doing, helping the scientists understand perhaps what the business world needs or the businesspeople understand what the scientists are going through,” Mills said. ◆