From Lab to Leadership: Navigating Biotech’s New Wave with Dr. Vicki Tsao

Dr. Vicki Tsao

With the rapidly evolving field of science, understanding competitive dynamics and strategic planning is crucial for innovation and development. Vicki Tsao, PhD, a consultant for Lifescience Dynamics, stands at the forefront of this challenge.

Before her current role at Lifescience Dynamics, Dr. Tsao spent years honing her skills in drug development and target prioritization, collaborating with burgeoning biotech companies. Her work during her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specifically on ion channels and drug modulation, has empowered her with a profound understanding of molecular mechanisms that she now leverages to advise and steer biotechnology companies.

Check out our interview with Dr. Vicki Tsao below.

What moment or experience was pivotal in convincing your family about the validity and potential of your career choice in the life sciences?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: Coming from a family with everyone so focused on business administration and management, it was really difficult to convince them why a science degree matters at the beginning. I am not a first-generation college student myself, but I am the first science-major child in my family.

One of the concerns my parents and even grandparents had was actually the gender imbalance in the world of science, which would potentially infer gender equality in the future. I had to show my family I was well prepared for college to pursue a scientific degree. I had already looked into all my career options and knew what I was doing. I was glad my family was supportive in the end, but I still have a bit of mixed feelings about why I need to explain girls should have an equal opportunity to work in science.

In your work as a consultant at Lifescience Dynamics, you assist the top 20 pharma companies globally. What do you find most rewarding about your role?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: We collaborate with our clients on a daily basis, not only trying to be a thought partner that provides competitor analyses but also a thought leader, based on our experience in the life science industry, of what we might anticipate as “what’s next” or the “so what.”

It is the most rewarding during brainstorming sessions when you get to meet the broader client team and discuss/debate your opinions from an outsider’s view (for clients) and are able to provide additional color on what you’ve seen from your past experiences.

Sometimes it’s also very rewarding when you bring up a topic that is completely off your clients’ radar. That’s what we do!

Could you elaborate on the significance of Competitive Intelligence in the pharmaceutical industry, and how you contribute through your work?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: As SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analyses are important for any pharmaceutical company, competitive intelligence helps make these SWOT analyses more evidence-based.

We collect pieces of information from secondary research (whatever is available in the public domain) and try to sew them together as a story. Then, we supplement these big pieces with primary research (interviewing key opinion leaders, healthcare professionals, and/or company sources) to make the story flow better and more interesting with an “insider’s view.”

Coming from a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) background, we are trained in the observe-hypothesize-experiment method to perform our day-to-day jobs. It is a huge accomplishment whenever your story gets confirmed.

Transitioning from academic research to consultancy, what were some unexpected challenges you encountered, and how did you adapt?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: I actually had a bumpy ride when I transitioned from academic research to the industry. Thinking back, I would have appreciated learning the importance of networking and gaining exposure to non-academic roles earlier in my academic life.

Working in an industry that’s at the forefront of innovation, how do you keep yourself updated with the latest trends and breakthroughs in drug development?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: Continuous learning. Reading the news has become one of my daily routines, not only to know what’s happening daily, as the world of science always evolves so quickly but also to listen to/see what key opinion leaders are saying about novel treatments, shifts in treatment paradigms, unaddressed unmet needs of patients, etc.

Given your extensive background in drug development and business strategies, what advice would you offer to early-stage biotech companies navigating competitive analysis?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: Know your competitors; understand your strengths and weaknesses and how they compare to your competitors, then make the decisions based on your analysis.

In what ways do you think the life sciences sector can further support and empower women, particularly in leadership roles?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: In my humble opinion, life science consulting is one of the most gender-friendly places to work. People are generally very collaborative and eager to learn more from each other. My current role gives me a huge opportunity to be a leader but also support others, so I get to learn from other leaders as well.

Reflecting on your career journey, what has been the most unexpected lesson you’ve learned about yourself?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: It has been an amazing journey to see how my academic research skill sets could be translated to consulting. Although I no longer work within the field of neurotransmitter receptors, I still cherish all the training, such as attention to detail, challenging one’s own thinking, meticulousness, and organization skills, that can all be applied to my current role.

Inspired by other colleagues in my current company, I am constantly impressed by seniors on their managing and leading skills, as well as juniors who very often come up with spectacular solutions. This job really pushes people to learn every day.

Finally, based on your own experiences, what essential piece of advice would you share for young women aspiring to enter the life sciences or biotechnology fields today?

Dr. Vicki Tsao: Do not hesitate to pursue your dream(s)! Girls and women have faced a ton of questions every day since we were born, and nothing should stop us from doing what we want to be.

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Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.

Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site FanBolt.com

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