GlaxoSmithKline’s head of R&D, Tachi Yamada, will retire from the drugmaker on June 1 and take up a position at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organisation focusing on healthcare.

60-year-old Yamada will be replaced at GSK by Moncef Slaoui, currently GSK's senior vice president, worldwide business development and external alliances. The 46-year-old has spearheaded GSK’s efforts to revamp its drug discovery activities and accelerate product development.

Yamada, who had been in the post since the formation by merger of GlaxoSmithKline in 2001, was due to retire in 2007 at 62, in accordance with GSK’s corporate rules. He is credited with revamping R&D at GSK and boosting productivity via strategies such as setting up mini R&D centres within the group, specialising in particular diseases areas, that operate with the entrepreneurial culture of a much-smaller organisation.

Yamada leaves one big R&D-focused organisation for another. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a $30 billion endowment, with more than $5.7 billion in active grants. He will lead the Foundation’s efforts to develop and deliver drugs, vaccines and other tools to fight developing-world diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, and oversee the Foundation’s global health grant portfolio.

The Foundation already has ties to GSK, working with the drugmaker on projects such as the development of a malaria vaccine and anti-HIV compounds used as microbicides.