Alumni Profiles Series: Adrianne Wong

 May 1, 2024

Adrianne Wong came to Duke University after majoring in biology at Brown University. At Duke, she began her studies in the Cell and Molecular Biology Program and Department of Cell Biology where she completed her Ph.D. studying the role of tyrosine kinase signaling in cardiovascular development and disease. Dr. Wong then went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in the Department of Genetics and Development. During her studies, she became interested in scientific communication and honed her skills writing for and presenting to non-specialist and general audiences by freelancing and working with NPR’s “Science Friday” program. After her postdoc, Dr. Wong entered the world of intellectual property law as a scientific advisor at Darby & Darby, P.C., before pivoting to a global role funding academic and biotech type 1 diabetes research at JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). In 2016, Dr. Wong transitioned to a program management and business development position focusing on global health at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). She currently evaluates oncology technology and assets on behalf of the company’s business development team at the Japanese pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo.

How did your career interests change during graduate school?

Growing up, both of my parents were scientists, so as an undergrad biology major, I knew grad school of some sort was probably in the cards. I went straight to grad school at Duke and chose the Department of Cell Biology; my lab was in Cardiology in the Department of Medicine, which brought a very translational perspective. Midway through, I had a crisis of whether bench science was truly what I wanted to do. Luckily, Duke’s diverse offerings allowed me to explore different interests, including taking a science and technology policy class and writing for different publications. These “experiments” revealed the interesting spaces at the intersection of science and its practical and society implications. After graduation, I pursued a postdoc to continue to explore career paths in academia, but eventually realized bench work wasn't something I wanted to do long term. This realization led me to explore other avenues, such as patent law during my time at Columbia.

How did you hone your career focus during graduate school and your postdoc?

I've always had an open mind about pursuing something besides academic science. My summer jobs were always in labs and my mother was an immunologist in industry, so I always kept in mind that there was a big world outside of academia. The big leap for me was deciding to move away from bench work, which wasn't a predefined career path for many in grad school, or as common as it is now.

Tell me about your transition from a postdoc at the bench to exploring patent law. What kind of shift in skills did it require?

The transition was intriguing because it allowed me to combine both depth and breadth in scientific understanding. Although challenging, programs like the IDP (Individual Development Plan) offered by AAAS helped me identify my interests and skills. Patent law appealed to me as it required both deep knowledge and broad understanding across various scientific fields. I always knew I was interested in science at a broader level.

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How did you navigate self-doubt and challenges during these career transitions, and what advice would you give to others?

A lot of fear stems from the unknown, especially when deviating from traditional career paths. However, leveraging available resources and support networks, such as alumni programs and career development workshops, can provide valuable first-hand guidance. It's crucial to remember that success is subjective and should align with personal values rather than what you think is expected of you.

Tell me more about your current role at Daiichi Sankyo.

I work in global business development, focusing on scientific scouting and evaluation for oncology assets. In pharma, business/corporate development groups focus on “External Innovation”: scientists in “Search & Evaluation” collaborate with internal stakeholders to develop the strategy for what types of assets and collaborations could strengthen the company’s pipeline, and then go out into the world, connect with academics and other companies, assess the programs, and see if there is a fit. Other BD [business development] functions focus on negotiating contracts and ensuring effective collaboration between parties. It's a dynamic role that requires both scientific expertise and a business-oriented attitude.

I noticed you have strong experience in science communication. How did you develop these skills?

Effective communication is vital, regardless of the career path. Understanding the audience and tailoring messages accordingly is key. In graduate school and beyond, I took advantage of workshops and courses that provided practical tools and insights into communicating complex scientific concepts effectively. It's about conveying the essence of the message without oversimplifying or overcomplicating it.

Is there anything interesting about you that people might not know?

I was a deeply opinionated college radio DJ, which highlights my passion for music and community building. This love for sharing exciting discoveries extends to both science and music, emphasizing the importance of fostering appreciation and understanding in various contexts.


Karly Forker headshot
Karly Forker

Ph.D. student, Biochemistry

Karly Forker is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Biochemistry at Duke University. Working in the Zhou lab, she researches the structure of a protein complex involved in a DNA damage tolerance pathway implicated in chemoresistance. In her free time, she enjoys running, exploring local restaurants, and watching movies.