Clay Siegall has spent his life dedicated to the research and development of novel cancer treatments. He first became aware of the barbarity of many forms of cancer treatments while he was in college. He decided to focus his career on the search for new, less invasive and less damaging ways to treat, and maybe someday cure the disease.
Combining old and new
After spending 15 years as a leading cancer researcher at Bristol-Meyers-Squibb and the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Siegall founded Seattle Genetics in 1998. The company’s mission was to concentrate on researching and developing a new line of promising anti-cancer drugs called antibody drug conjugates. These are a form of the broader category of drugs known as targeted cancer therapies.
These targeted therapies were developed in response to the often times horrific means by which cancer is treated. Prior to the 2000s, the two main treatment modalities for cancer were killing the cancer cells through such means as radiation and chemotherapy or excision of the tumor. This last option often involves radical surgery, including amputation of limbs and other body parts. Chemotherapy and radiation can be just as nasty, with recipients often having lifelong deficits, such as paresthesia or cardiomyopathy, and visibly accelerated aging, among many other terrible side-effects.
Siegall thought that there was a better way. While most targeted therapies, up until 2000 or so, had involved cytostatic agents, that is, agents which stop further proliferation of cancer cells, Siegall thought that the delivery mechanisms used in targeted therapies could be used to deliver much more potent cytotoxic agents, chemicals which actively kill tumor cells, sending the cancer into remission.
Between 1998 and 2011, Seattle Genetics developed a number of innovative approaches to developing the delivery systems that would take the cytotoxic chemicals directly to the site of the tumor without any systemic release, completely eliminating all of the traditional side-effects of chemotherapy while enhancing anti-cancer effects.
This culminated, in 2011, with the first FDA approval of a viable antibody drug conjugate, Seattle Genetics’ Adcetris. Today, Adcetris and similar drugs are revolutionizing the ways in which cancer is treated across the globe.