Moonwalk Team

Mike Varney, MD

Dr. Mike Varney is a pioneer drug discoverer and biotech leader. As one of the original fifteen employees at Agouron, a biotech based in San Diego, he built a team that developed protein-structure based design, a novel approach to drug discovery that is utilized globally by drug discovery teams today. In 1997, the Agouron team launched Viracept, an HIV protease inhibitor that achieved the highest first year launch sales of any biotech product at the time. Dr. Varney’s leadership at Agouron resulted in the discovery of a number of currently marketed anti-cancer agents including Xalkori and Inlyta, a drug that won the American Chemical Society’s Heroes of Chemistry Award in 2018. In 2005, Dr Varney was recruited to Genentech, the US based R&D organization in Roche, to expand the organization’s drug discovery capabilities to include small molecules. Focused on agility and pioneering science, Varney built a team-based organization that today produces more that 40% of Genentech’s development portfolio including the marketed anticancer agents Erivedge and Cotellic In 2015, Dr Varney was appointed Executive Vice President and Head of Genentech’s Research and Early Development (gRED) and a member of the Roche Corporate Executive Committee in Basel. In this role, he was responsible for all aspects of gRED innovation, drug discovery and drug development. Varney also focused on building a team-based culture empowered to clear the path to patients. Under his leadership, gRED teams discovered and developed successful medicines that include Venclexta with AbbVie, the first bcl-2 inhibitor and Polivy, an antibody drug conjugate for the treatment of DLBCL.

Pioneering molecules in the clinic include Mosunetuzumab, a bispecific antibody targeting CD20, and GDC-9545, a next generation estrogen receptor degrader. Dr. Varney retired from Genentech in July 2020, leaving a diversity of drug platform types that includes personalized therapeutic vaccines and cellular therapies.

Dr. Varney holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, and was an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University.

Dr. Varney is currently an advisor to the Biotech and Pharma world and is a Board member of both public and private companies.