For Dr. Christiane Langer, the key to leadership is connection. And at China-originated BeiGene, where Langer is the senior vice president of global medical affairs, the company is forming connections with international markets to become a worldwide biopharma force.
You could say the two are a perfect fit.
Langer's journey didn't begin in medical affairs — growing up and attending medical school in Germany, an interest in obstetrics and gynecology led her down a path of treating women with cancer. And after witnessing the U.S. approval of Genentech's Herceptin, the first targeted therapy for women with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer, followed shortly by the regulatory go-ahead in Germany, Langer more fully realized the impact of drug innovation.
"I was right there, a junior doctor, and we were treating the first breast cancer patients in Germany with Herceptin," Langer said. "To see that after decades of chemotherapy, and to see how that changed the lives of patients, how the whole treatment landscape changed, it was quite eye-opening."
Langer said she realized that, through biopharma innovation, she could help patients in a more wide-reaching way.
"To me, the most important part about leadership is authenticity."
Senior vice president of global medical affairs outside China, BeiGene
Now, the former junior doctor leading the medical affairs team at one of China's biggest cancer biopharmaceutical companies is growing the business into an international juggernaut. And it couldn't come at a better time for BeiGene, which received its first U.S. regulatory greenlight in 2019 for the cancer drug Brukinsa.
"My scope is truly global," Langer said. "We're expanding, and that is very attractive to me and something I hadn't done to this degree yet."
A good medical affairs team communicates with stakeholders about how a drug works and why it's worth buying — for BeiGene, founded in 2010, connecting these dots on a global scale is how the company can achieve growth.
Understanding the landscape
Knowing the competition — as well as the shortcomings and promise of your company’s portfolio — is crucial to this work.
"It's very thought out — this isn't a new class of drugs," Langer said of Brukinsa, which is a checkpoint inhibitor in the BTK class. "But there were deficits and toxicities associated with that, and we were looking to make it more efficient and less toxic."
What BeiGene also has in its pocket were head-to-head studies. One of those was against the well-known Imbruvica from Janssen, which Brukinsa bested with a 35% lower risk of disease progression.
For a medical affairs professional, that kind of data is gold.
"Data makes it very easy," Langer said with a smile. "That's a very easy story to tell and to understand."
Despite these wins, BeiGene has been battling negative perceptions of clinical trial integrity in China. Last year, a committee advising the FDA decided against recommending an Eli Lilly cancer drug because the standards of clinical testing in China would be "a step backward," agency oncology head Richard Pazdur said at the time.
BeiGene is also subject to these discussions. But the company has devoted energy toward presenting itself not as a Chinese company, but an international one. For Langer, the lower cost of doing clinical trials in-house and outside of the U.S. is an opportunity.
"We're confident in the quality of our data," Langer said. "When public discussions like these come up, we have internal discussions, and these are important considerations. And now we are all around the world and it's an important strategy to enroll people from all geographies."
BeiGene has 29 offices around the world and more than 9,000 employees. The company runs clinical trials in more than 40 countries with more than 20,000 patients.
To meet those global needs, Langer’s team also needs to span the globe — with people in North America, Europe and APAC regions, as well as South America, the Middle East and Africa, she said that focusing on this expansion was part of the appeal of the job, as well.
A role model
When asked early in her career whom she looked up to as a role model, Langer had trouble thinking of a name, particularly among women. But there was one quality she was looking for.
"To me, the most important part about leadership is authenticity," Langer said. "Over the years, I've learned more about my own style and becoming self-aware, always looking for moments of how I'm different and how I can leverage my unique skills."
Now, Langer has many role models who are women and who bring that authenticity to the table that she missed early on.
"I've never felt so welcome at any other company, and I still feel that way," Langer said. "I've sort of arrived, right?"
Awareness is what brought her there, and awareness lies in connections, Langer said, adding that a feeling of inclusion is important to the work that BeiGene does.
"I feel very supported by my peers and my team, and it's a very inclusive, welcoming culture," Langer said."
Another way to make connections is by understanding what patients are feeling. That led to BeiGene's program called "Talk About It," which brings cancer patients together with mental healthcare professionals — an underseen aspect of the patient experience, Langer said.
"Bringing in patients and talking about their experience is very important," Langer said. "We're always brainstorming about, 'What else?' or 'What's missing?' — because there are a lot of drugs and a lot of progress, but we're always missing something."