Besser, who received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, was most recently chief health and medical editor at ABC News. Before that, he spent his career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the University of California, San Diego.

For six months in 2009, Besser was acting director for the CDC, where he led the agency's response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the foundation said.

Besser will succeed Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, who led the foundation for 14 years and will remain until a handoff expected in April, the foundation said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation had $10.3 billion in assets at the end of 2015 and gave out $318 million in grants, according to its audited financial statement.