Vicki L. Sato

Professor of Management Practice

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Unit: Technology and Operations Management


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Dr. Sato serves as Professor of Management Practice of Harvard Business School where she joined the faculty in 2006. Prior to that, she was the President of Vertex Pharmaceuticals from 2000 until her retirement from that position in 2005, and had previously served eight years as Vertex’s Chief Scientific Officer and Chair of the scientific advisory board. Prior to joining Vertex in 1992, she was with Biogen, Inc. from 1984 to 1992, most recently as Vice President of Research and a member of the scientific advisory board. Dr. Sato is also a business advisor to enterprises in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Dr. Sato is currently a director of Bristol Myers Squibb, PerkinElmer Corporation, and Syros Therapeutics, all publicly held companies. She was recently appointed co-chair of the Advisory Council of LifeSci: NYC, a public service group that advises New York City on matters of life science competitiveness, and is an overseer of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In addition to public board service, she is an advisor and director to privately held Denali Therapeutics and Vir, Bio. She is the author of numerous professional publications and received her AB, AM and PhD degrees from Harvard University. 

Dr. Sato is an accomplished executive and scientist with an extensive background advising and leading research teams in life sciences innovation. Dr. Sato’s previous roles as chief scientific officer and vice president of research for multi-national companies, as well as her academic work on science-driven entrepreneurship allow her to offer guidance as we develop our technology initiatives and collaborative efforts. The expertise Dr. Sato has gained through her service on the boards of other public companies contributes broad understanding of corporate governance matters.


Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Adnexus Therapeutics, Inc.: Considering the Exit

    Vicki L. Sato and Rachel Gordon

    Dr. John Mendlein, CEO of Adnexus Therapeutics Inc. (Adnexus), a private biotechnology company, must decide whether to pursue acquisition talks with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) after a successful six-month collaboration or continue with Adnexus' planned IPO.

    Keywords: Mergers and Acquisitions; Decision Choices and Conditions; Entrepreneurship; Initial Public Offering; Corporate Strategy; Biotechnology Industry;


    Sato, Vicki L., and Rachel Gordon. "Adnexus Therapeutics, Inc.: Considering the Exit." Harvard Business School Case 609-015, November 2008. View Details
  2. The Broad Institute: Applying the Power of Genomics to Medicine

    Vicki L. Sato and Rachel Gordon

    In June 2003, Harvard University and MIT announced an unprecedented partnership to create a biomedical institute, The Broad Institute. The culture of the Broad centered on science, and those involved considered it to be at the edge of the scientific frontier. In just four years the Broad had made many important scientific contributions to the biomedical field. These included understanding genetic alterations in cancer; building an RNAi Consortium to better understand the role of every gene in the human body; creating an integrated database that mapped the connections among drugs, genes, and diseases; and cataloging inherited genetic variations of Type 2 Diabetes. Opportunities for additional important scientific advances beckoned but would require both funding and physical space. The Broad Institute's leaders, including Altshuler, Director of the Program in Medical and Population Genetics, and Golub, Director of the Cancer Program, needed to decide how big was too big. How many projects could the Broad productively support? What happened when the Broad outgrew its physical space? Altshuler and Golub knew that the Broad had made tremendous strides in the past year. It had minimized barriers and attracted many young scientists who viewed the Broad as an exciting place to do research. That success made the question of how to balance the priorities of growth and the preservation of the culture that had made everything possible all the more important.

    Keywords: Education; Health Care and Treatment; Innovation Leadership; Growth and Development Strategy; Organizational Culture; Partners and Partnerships; Research and Development; Genetics;


    Sato, Vicki L., and Rachel Gordon. "The Broad Institute: Applying the Power of Genomics to Medicine." Harvard Business School Case 608-114, March 2008. (Revised June 2008.) View Details
  3. China Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research: Building a Sustainable, Globally Integrated Research Enterprise

    Vicki Sato, Christoph Jaeker and Pooja Mehta Solanki

    As the head of the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in China, En Li was shepherding a $1 billion R&D investment in China. So far he had been able to attract a large number of Chinese-born but US-trained scientists to play a critical role in establishing the site. How sustainable was this strategy, and what were the key things he had to do right to establish a globally integrated R&D unit in China?

    Keywords: Globalized Firms and Management; Research; Corporate Strategy; Pharmaceutical Industry; Health Industry; China;


    Sato, Vicki, Christoph Jaeker, and Pooja Mehta Solanki. "China Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research: Building a Sustainable, Globally Integrated Research Enterprise." Harvard Business School Case 612-048, November 2011. (Revised February 2012.) View Details
  4. PerkinElmer – Developing Products in China for China

    Vicki Sato, Christoph Jaeker and Kareem Reda

    Keywords: Product Development; Developing Countries and Economies; Medical Devices and Supplies Industry; China;


    Sato, Vicki, Christoph Jaeker, and Kareem Reda. "PerkinElmer – Developing Products in China for China." Harvard Business School Case 612-032, November 2011. (Revised December 2011.) View Details
  5. BMS-Biocon Research Center: Growing a Joint Research Venture in India

    Vicki Sato, Sen Chai, Rich Ballenger, Christine Chi, Alexander Down and Ross Leimberg

    Bristol Myers Squibb, a multi-national pharmaceutical company, is seeking to globalize its R&D strategy while managing costs. It has formed a joint venture with an Indian company, which has worked well, but now faces a strategic decision on how and whether to continue.

    Keywords: Pharmaceuticals; Global innovation; Research and Development; Biomedical Research; Joint Ventures; India; United States;


    Sato, Vicki, Sen Chai, Rich Ballenger, Christine Chi, Alexander Down, and Ross Leimberg. "BMS-Biocon Research Center: Growing a Joint Research Venture in India." Harvard Business School Case 613-072, December 2012. (Revised August 2013.) View Details
  6. The Langer Lab: Commercializing Science (TP)

    Vicki L. Sato and Annelena Lobb

    The Langer Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was a unique operation. Its head, Robert Langer, had always focused on selecting ideas to research that would have the greatest positive impact for humanity, and he encouraged an unusual multidisciplinary approach at the lab, fostering collaboration between scientists from many diverse backgrounds. The approach led to exciting discoveries and innovations at the Langer Lab. Besides his intelligence, Langer's personality—expansive, magnanimous, and intensely curious—enticed many potential applicants. The lab also had a very strong working relationship with MIT's Technology Licensing Office, which wrote patents for all of the innovations created at the university. What lessons can be drawn from the Langer Lab about the management of research groups? How did the Langer Lab sustain innovation? Could the Langer Lab's processes successfully be imitated elsewhere?

    Keywords: computers; industry evolution; entrepreneurship; Intellectual capital; patents; R&D; Technology Transfer; Patents; Research and Development; Massachusetts;


    Sato, Vicki L., and Annelena Lobb. "The Langer Lab: Commercializing Science (TP)." Harvard Business School Teaching Plan 613-014, November 2012. View Details
  7. Anthony Starks at InSiL Therapeutics (B)

    Vicki Sato and Gary Pisano

    This case accompanies the (A) case from Anthony Starks's perspective.

    Keywords: biotech; Biotechnology Industry; management; management challenges; R&D; R&D Project Management; management; Biotechnology Industry; California;


    Sato, Vicki, and Gary Pisano. "Anthony Starks at InSiL Therapeutics (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 617-030, November 2016. (Revised December 2016.) View Details
  8. Anthony Starks at InSiL Therapeutics (A)

    Gary Pisano and Vicki Sato

    When Bruce Wayne hired Anthony Starks, he thought he had hit a home run by getting the most brilliant and passionate scientist-leader in the field to be his CSO. But a few months in, Wayne and Starks begin to clash over crucial forward-looking decisions about the direction of the company. As CEO, Wayne needs to make tough decisions about how to manage his passionate but increasingly unpredictable CSO.

    Keywords: biotech; Biotechnology Industry; silicon; management; managing innovation; management challenges; managing people; Managing organization; R&D; R&D Project Management; platform; venture capital; drug discovery; management; Biotechnology Industry; California;


    Pisano, Gary, and Vicki Sato. "Anthony Starks at InSiL Therapeutics (A)." Harvard Business School Case 617-029, November 2016. View Details
  9. Alnylam Pharmaceuticals: Building Value from the IP Estate (B)

    Vicki Sato, Willy Shih and Matt Higgins

    The leader of a pioneering biotech company in the siRNA space weighs his options for scaling production capacity in advance of an anticipated commercial launch. Operational complexity and relative merits of in-house manufacturing versus a contractor model are discussed.

    Keywords: Pharmaceutical Companies; pharmaceutical industry; biotech; biotechnology; Biotechnology Industry; operational complexity; strategy; manufacturing; Production; Strategic Planning; Intellectual Property; Biotechnology Industry; United States;


    Sato, Vicki, Willy Shih, and Matt Higgins. "Alnylam Pharmaceuticals: Building Value from the IP Estate (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 617-022, November 2016. View Details

    Research Summary

  1. Research Interests

    by Vicki L. Sato

    Research interests are focused on issues of innovation and productivity as they relate to improved outcomes in biotechnology and pharmaceutical R and D. These span topics from decision-making, organizational structure and communication, to the development of novel technologies that could impact current roadblocks in drug discovery.


  1. Overview

    by Vicki L. Sato

    Since coming to HBS, my teaching interests have centered around the intersection of science and business: entrepreneurship, management, and strategy. More recently, i have become more engaged in considering the emergence of new university models for the translation of basic scientific discovery into commercial enterprise, and have engaged with both the university and the private sector in this analysis.

    Keywords: science business; biotechnology; Pharmaceuticals; innovation;