October 26, 2017
By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service
Dr. Daniel Egan often meets his patients when they are in the midst of the scariest times in their lives. Hanging over their heads is the very real chance that their aggressive blood cancers will come back. Or they’re experiencing tough side effects after going through an intensive and difficult cancer therapy. Many of his patients are at the very end of the line for treatment options, and they have chosen to enroll in a clinical trial in the face of a vicious leukemia.
And to Egan, this is the great privilege and pride of his job — to be able to offer the chance at a way forward.
“The way that my relationship with any of these patients arises is out of hope,” said Egan, an early-career physician and clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and its clinical-care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Relationships are important to Egan. He is a devoted uncle to his nieces back home in Massachusetts, and he loves to explore new places and cuisines — his favorite hobbies — alongside his partner and friends. Accordingly, it was love for the relationships he builds with patients and their family members that inspired him to center his research in the clinic, rather than in a lab.
As a trial principal investigator, Egan is on the front lines of caring for patients enrolled in clinical trials of new immunotherapies developed in the labs at Fred Hutch. One of his latest trials enrolls patients who are in remission from an advanced leukemia but who are medically unable to receive a bone marrow transplant, a therapy that could help prevent a relapse. In this trial, patients’ disease-fighting T cells are removed from their bloodstream and genetically engineered to carry a cancer-targeting receptor in the hope that these reprogrammed cells will eliminate any cancer that develops down the road.
Whether through trials like this, or in the course of his regular clinical practice, Egan hopes that he makes as much of a positive impact as possible on patients and their families.
He vividly remembers one of the patients he helped to care for on a clinical trial of an experimental immunotherapy strategy. The patient was a little girl, only a few years old, and this was her family’s last possible chance to save her. Tragically, not long after her genetically engineered cells were put back into her body, the girl’s disease progressed.
Yet witnessing what it meant to the family — to have the opportunity to participate in the trial, even if it did not save her life — made a deep impression on Egan.
“It made me realize that we really are a beacon of hope for patients who have no other options,” he said. “I’m proud to be able at least to do everything I can to offer this, even if it remains unproven.”
Relationships with patients and their families inspire Egan to keep moving forward in his research, he said. “The fact that there certainly is room for improvement in efficacy made me realize — with that case in particular — that we need to do better."