One of the great problems of cancer treatment has always been the inability of cancer-fighting drugs to specifically target the tumor itself. This results in the drugs and other treatments used to fight cancer taking on the form of blunt instruments. Rather than taking a scalpel to the problem, modern chemotherapy is all too often equivalent to taking a sledgehammer to it.
The massive systemic release of chemotherapy drugs that is required to shrink tumors is tantamount to the ingestion of near-fatal amounts of poison. In fact, oncologists actively seek to pump the patient full of his much poison as they possibly can without killing them. This is not only a dangerous tightrope act, putting the patient’s life in the balance, it is also a virtually guaranteed means of creating lasting side effects, including peripheral neuropathy, so-called chemo brain or dementia secondary to ingestion of poisonous chemotherapy and a wide range of other, lasting neurological deficits.
The challenge in cancer research has, therefore, been to develop a class of drugs that no longer requires the systemic release of large amounts of highly toxic poison into the bloodstream. One solution to this problem is what is broadly referred to as targeted cancer therapy, a subcategory of precision medicine. While there are many different approaches to the development of targeted cancer therapies, one area has been the class of drugs known as antibody drug conjugates.
These drugs were largely developed, in the mid-90s, by one man and his team of researchers at pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. Clay Siegall had long been one of the star researchers in the cancer industry, working for more than 15 years at the National Cancer Institute and a number of other large pharmaceutical companies. He began developing antibody drug conjugates while still add Bristol-Myers Squibb, but later founded his own company, Seattle Genetics, which eventually went on to developed the first FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate, called ADCetris. Today, ADCetris is one of the few antibody drug conjugates approved for multiple indications by the FDA. The drug has saved thousands of lives and has made millions of dollars in profits for Seattle Genetics.