A Passion for Putting Patients First
Editor’s note: In recognition of World Patient Safety Day and BeiGene’s broader, unwavering focus on patients – articulated in our “Patients First” Value – we share the following profile of a colleague who exemplifies this commitment in action and whose story explains why he chose to work for the company.
Danny Lu always knew he wanted to do something to help people, to do it with passion and integrity, and in a way that would honor his family. This drive has led Danny to play a key role in developing BeiGene’s clinical trial processes in ways that pay tribute to his family by honoring the sacrifices of patients who participate in clinical trials.
His day-to-day job is managing clinical research associates, or CRAs. As Senior CRA Functional Manager, he works to ensure the associates are allocated correctly and have resources necessary to ensure the clinical research process is efficient. At the same time, he works to train them to do their jobs not only well but also with a healthy respect for the patients behind the research data. This includes sharing with the team the passion to do what is right for the patient that is a part of Danny’s DNA.
Passion in his DNA
Danny was born in Texas to parents who had fled Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Together with his older siblings, the family lived in a series of refugee camps before coming to the United States in 1979. Danny recalls his family struggling to make ends meet in Texas, where they settled.
“My family lived in poverty. They didn't know where their next meal was coming from,” he says. “But we also had a strong family, and it was instilled in us that you need to work hard and be passionate about what you do. Because of that, I feel a duty to do whatever I can to honor them.”
When Danny enrolled at the University of Texas, Dallas, 25 years after his family arrived in the U.S., he thought he would fulfill his passion for helping people as a physician. With that in mind, he undertook a pre-med program. Later, he decided that wouldn’t be his path; but he remained committed to his goal and “fell into” clinical research. At the outset, he didn’t fully realize the important role that patient volunteers play in clinical trials studying potential new medicines.
“So many people just assume that the FDA does all these trials, that they lead them and then somehow, magically, a drug is approved,” Danny says. “Not many people know what’s really involved or that there were a lot of patients who had to volunteer to be part of these clinical trials for the process to start.”
His first job in the field, about a decade ago, was an entry-level position managing trial data. The trials were large-scale studies of dermatology treatments, and the patients who participated were relatively healthy. He moved up quickly to become a site monitor, and then received training to do that work for an entirely different sort of trial: studies of oncology treatments.
An Epiphany and a Search
Danny’s life changed, he says, when he was assigned to a trial for a chemotherapy as a second- or third-line treatment. Those treatments are typically used for end-stage cancer patients who haven’t responded to other approaches.
This experience led to what he calls a “paradigm-shifting moment” in his life that still gives him goosebumps to relate years later. A few weeks into the trial, he found himself sitting on the floor of his cubicle in tears, distraught at the realization that the data he was reviewing represented people whose cancer would likely claim their lives in relatively short order.
“That hit me really hard, to realize that they, the patients, were selflessly giving up their final days, weeks or months not just for themselves but for future patients,” he recalls. “It was at that point I decided I would do everything in my power to find a job in which I could align myself with a company that honors patients and would allow me to advocate fully for them, to do my part in making sure we, as clinical researchers, remember there is a patient behind every piece of data.”
He found that alignment at BeiGene.
“BeiGene really hit a lot of marks for me,” he said. “The mission of the founders, John Oyler and Xiaodong Wang, is to make drugs not just more affordable but also more accessible in under-served regions,” he said. “Large pharmaceutical companies are mainly focused on Western populations. But what about Vietnam, what about China, what about Africa, what about other under-served regions? People in these parts of the world deserve life-saving science as well. And that really struck a chord with me.”
Sara Huang, Senior Director, Head of Americas, Clinical Operations, says Danny’s dedication to BeiGene’s mission was evident from the start.
“I interviewed Danny on Sep 13, 2019 and will forever remember his genuine passion for compliance in clinical trial conduct as it relates to safely serving patients," says Sara. "He not only had the humble motivation to serve patients but the smarts and drive to seamlessly execute on studies, which is critical in Clinical Operations. My awe of Danny elevated further a few short months later when he presented me with an elaborate planning and resourcing algorithm that he programmed himself! I recall vividly having to pick up my dropped jaw in that Ridgefield Park office where we met in order to tell Danny how lucky we were to have him at BeiGene.”
Making a Difference
In the 20 months since he joined BeiGene, Danny has been instrumental in developing onboarding and training programs for CRAs, including creating tools that streamline their work.
“Given BeiGene’s tremendous growth, the role Danny was hired into shifted and morphed with the evolving needs of the company," says Melika Davis, SVP & Global Head, Clinical Operations. "Despite the constant change, Danny remained focused and committed to honor the patients behind our trials,” “He would take on additional responsibilities in all aspect of trial conduct, even if it meant immersing himself in additional training to ensure he performed quality work.”
He also played a key role in a Herculean effort, in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, to pivot an existing clinical trial of a BTK inhibitor to examine some unexpected data showing that it might help patients with COVID infections.
“One of the investigators in our BTK trials, Dr. Steve Treon, published an article on how he saw, anecdotally, that some of the patients in his study who had contracted COVID made unexpected recoveries,” Danny says, while those in the control group didn’t. Danny and others set out to help launch a study to test the anecdotal results. Knowing the time pressures presented by the pandemic, and the cost of new trials, the team put in 60- and 70-hour weeks to create new processes and streamline their work – enabling the company’s first COVID trial to be fully functional within weeks rather than the months the work typically would require.
That COVID trial didn’t demonstrate the hoped-for benefit in patients. That’s always a risk with a clinical trial, and even more so when studying a potential treatment for a novel condition such as COVID. Yet, despite the long and difficult hours that went into it, Danny says he would do it all again.
“I don't regret a single moment,” he said. “We accomplished so much and we pushed the team so hard for the potential. That's all we needed, was the potential to help patients. I'm very proud of that fact and the accomplishments of my teammates.”
Today his team tops 20 people and continues to grow. For Danny, it is a point of pride that the work he does also contributes to the companywide effort to keep costs down through optimization and streamlining processes.
“In my corner of BeiGene, I can at least make sure that my clinical research associates are being efficient,” he states. “All we see is the patient data, a subject number, but there’s a patient behind every number, and that’s what gets me to work every single day. It’s the obligation – and it is an obligation – to take that data and use it well to honor their sacrifices.”
In the process, Danny also honors his family and their sacrifices.