Clay Siegall is one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers. Through his company, Seattle Genetics, he is leading the development of a new class of drugs that promises to radically enhance the effectiveness of cancer treatment. These drugs, called antibody-drug conjugates, are already making a significant impact on certain forms of cancer. It is hoped that in the coming decades these drugs may eventually lead to a cure.
A molecular Trojan horse
Dr. Siegall first became interested in alternative forms of cancer treatment while attending graduate school. He was shocked by the barbarity of the current treatments, usually involving chemotherapy. These treatments often entailed such horrendous side effects as the loss of hair, violent nausea and even death.
After graduating from George Washington University, Dr. Clay Siegall went to work for the National Cancer Institute, researching a new class of treatments called targeted therapy. After a four-year stint with the National Cancer Institute, he was invited to come on board with Bristol-Myers Squibb as a senior researcher. While there, Dr. Siegall began working on a cutting-edge new line of drugs called antibody drug conjugates, a form of targeted cancer therapy.
Antibody-drug conjugates combined elements of immunology with the extremely potent effects of chemotherapy agents called cytotoxins. The drugs are comprised of an artificial antibody, created in the laboratory for optimal effect, that has been bound or conjugated to a cytotoxic agent. What makes these drugs so remarkable is that, by only targeting the tumor cells, the therapeutic window, the amount of the drug that can be safely given to a patient, can be radically increased. The first great benefit of this treatment is that the patient experiences few or no side effects. The second, is that the amount of cytotoxin that can be safely delivered to the patient can be so great as to completely destroy the tumor with just one course of treatment.
Today, Dr. Siegall is focusing on the continuing development of new forms of antibody drug conjugates. Seattle Genetics currently has eight drugs in the development pipeline and many more licensed to other companies for production. It is hoped that in the near future, this exciting new class of drugs will be approved for a wide variety of cancer types. They may, someday, even lead to a cure.