The treatment of cancer in the United States saw huge gains throughout the course of the 20th century. Between the year 1900 and 1950, United States citizens’ chances of being able to survive a cancer diagnosis went up by orders of magnitude. The survivability of many types of cancer continued to improve dramatically throughout the 1970s. But shortly thereafter, the rate of increase in survivability of many cancer types began to stagnate. By the mid-1990s, there had been few real innovations over the preceding 20 years. This led to novel developments and new types of totally unprecedented methods for both treating cancer and developing drugs.
One of these new disciplines that came on the scene, starting in the mid-’90s, was the class of drugs now known as targeted cancer therapies. Although this category extends to include an extremely wide array of disparate types of drugs, one of the most promising areas of targeted cancer therapy development has been the introduction of a class of drugs known as antibody drug conjugates. Simply put, antibody drug conjugates use human-like antibodies to deliver highly lethal cytotoxins directly to the surface of tumors and malignant tissues.
This allows for the radical increase in the amount of cytotoxic agent that can be administered at any given time. The result is the ability of the drug to all but wipe out the malignancy, with just one course of treatment. It also can virtually eliminate the horrible side effects associated with chemotherapeutic regimens.
No one has been more instrumental in the development of antibody drug conjugates that Clay Siegall. After having founded Seattle Genetics, as a company dedicated primarily to the research and development of antibody drug conjugates, Dr. Siegall has decided to pursue the strategy of finding cancer types that have not seen significant improvements in survivability over the preceding decades. This strategy has paid off handsomely.
Seattle Genetics’ first FDA-approved drug, ADCetris, has marked the first time in decades that patients suffering from refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have been able to see significant improvements in their mortality rates. Thanks to Dr. Siegall, this is now a highly survivable disease.