Dr Jean Deleage, founder of three venture funds and Genentech investor, passes away

This is a letter from the Partners of Alta Partners, that was circulated to members of the NVCA. It speaks of a successful and meaningful career. 


To our Investors and Colleagues,

We are deeply saddened to share the news that Dr. Jean Deleage, one of Alta’s founding partners, passed away early Wednesday morning from complications related to colon cancer. A life sciences investing veteran for over 34 years, Jean was a leader for Alta and a pioneer in our industry. He was a valued and cherished colleague, partner and friend, and he will be sorely missed by us all.

Born in France in 1940, Jean received a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from the École Supérieure d’Electricité and a Ph.D. in Economics from the Sorbonne. Jean joined Sofinnova Partners in Paris in 1971 and later launched the firm’s first U.S. subsidiary in San Francisco. In October 1979, Jean became an entrepreneur himself, forming Burr, Egan, Deleage & Co. with partners Craig Burr and Bill Egan. There, he built a prominent, diversified venture capital firm with offices in Boston and San Francisco. In 1996, Jean co-founded Alta Partners, where he continued to invest successfully in life sciences companies at all stages of development.

Jean often joked that every successful career contains some measure of serendipity or even blind luck. Although he came to Silicon Valley to fund technology start-ups, which during his early career included huge hits like Tandem Computing, Tandon Magnetics and SyQuest Technologies, he loved to tell the story of how good fortune graced his arrival to California in the form of an office mate named Bob Swanson, the eventual founder of Genentech. In addition to that first modest office in San Francisco, Jean and Bob also shared a passion for science, innovation and building businesses. Together they recognized the opportunity in a new model for drug research and development that would eventually become the industry leader we know today. Jean was one of the first investors in the company, writing a $50,000 check to Genentech in 1977.

Jean was a man of “firsts” – the first venture investor in many of our industry’s breakthrough companies, including not only Genentech, but also Chiron, Cephalon, Rigel and most recently Plexxikon. He was also the first US-based venture capitalist to go back to Europe and bring his start-up expertise to his home continent and fund companies such as Flamel, U3 Pharma and Crucell. Consistently the first name that people thought of when looking for a seasoned investor, Jean always brought a laser sharp perspective to the table and fought hard to see his companies succeed. In addition to the previously mentioned companies, he served on the board of many private and publicly held companies, including Biosym, Stratagene, Kosan BioSciences, Telik, and Versaflex and has been instrumental in the success of a wide range of life sciences companies and in the careers of their employees.

The recipient of many awards over his career, in 1993 Jean was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in recognition of his career accomplishments. In 2009, he was recognized by the National Venture Capital Association with the NVCA Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors venture capitalists who have dedicated their careers to building innovative companies and highly successful venture firms.

Jean was truly a renaissance man who had interests and great proficiency in many fields. He often took passions to an extreme. He was a world class bridge player, who played international tournaments until his board load and family responsibilities made it impossible to remain competitive. He was an avid sports fan with a special love of world cup soccer. He would disappear in the summer of every fourth year to whatever destination held the world cup finals and often take in twenty matches or more. He was a fierce competitor who always relished a rigorous debate or a tough M&A negotiation. A passionate supporter and admirer of the arts, Jean had season tickets to San Francisco Opera for over 30 years; he also served on the board of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and was also a skilled collector of both classical and modern art.

For all of his success in business, Jean Deleage was first and foremost a family man. He was a loving husband and proud father and grandfather. In recent years, Jean took several long and adventurous trips with his family. He relished those times more than any board room victory. Jean is survived by his wife Josette, his sons Andre, Emmanuel, Philippe and Michel, and 9 grandchildren.

We will miss Jean’s keen insights, seasoned judgment, unwavering support and sharp sense of humor. His impact and legacy will remain, not only at Alta Partners, but with all of the friends and colleagues he touched over his long and successful career. Quite simply, he put all that he had into his companies, his colleagues and his family, and his life serves as an example to us all.

Services will be held at Notre Dame des Victoires in San Francisco on Monday March 21 with a 9:00 am viewing, a mass at 10:00 am, and a reception to follow.

To continue Jean’s life work in life science research and innovation, donations in his memory can be made for Oncology Research at UCSF Medical Center. To make a donation on-line please follow this link and select the “other” designation and insert “Fund #B0831 IN MEMORY OF JEAN DELEAGE”