Clay Siegall is driving force behind antibody drug conjugates

Until the mid 90s, not much had changed in the field of cancer research, for more than five decades. The major breakthroughs of the 20th century all came in the ‘30s and ‘40s, with the advent of radiation, chemotherapy and major improvements and surgical techniques. These three pillars of cancer treatment managed to dramatically reduce the mortality rates for a wide swath of cancer types. This allowed for many people, who would have otherwise been doomed to a quick death, to enjoy many more years of life.

But between approximately 1950 and 1990, there was a period of stagnation within the cancer research industry. While some cancer types saw significant improvements in survivability during this period, many others did not see even nominal amounts of five-year survival increases. This condition persisted well into the 90s, when a new paradigm of cancer treatment, called targeted cancer therapy, began to emerge as the new trend in research for this disease.

One of the key figures who came out of the targeted cancer therapy scene was Clay Siegall. With an MS from the University of Maryland in biology as well as a PhD, Dr. Siegall had been a leading cancer researcher for more than 15 years when he founded his own firm, Seattle Genetics, in 1998. As a senior researcher at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dr. Siegall had been working on cutting edge treatment involving the use of a new class of drugs called antibody drug conjugates. Antibody drug conjugates were able to harness the body’s own immune response, using antibodies as a means to deliver extremely cytotoxic chemicals directly to the site of the malignancy. This not only dramatically increased the efficacy of treatments, it also reduced side effects to almost unnoticeable levels. This was a gigantic leap forward in the treatment of cancer, which had previously relied on barbaric methods of treatment that caused horrific side effects.

After founding Seattle Genetics, Dr. Siegall begin working on one of the first antibody drug conjugate treatment lines that would ultimately be approved by the FDA. In 2011, that approval finally came. The company’s drug, known as ADCetris, was approved for the treatment of refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Since then, the drug has saved countless lives.