Despite dramatic improvements in the survival rates of almost all types of cancer between the turn of the 20th century in the mid-twentieth century, many types of cancer have not seen dramatic improvements since then. This is largely due to the fact that most of the major breakthroughs in cancer treatment happened between the 1930s and the 1960s. Today, that is beginning to change. However, prior to the year 2000, the three main pillars of cancer treatment, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, were the same ones that had existed since the 1930s and 40s.
It was with this in mind that a senior researcher at Bristol-Myers Squibb named Clay Siegall decided to branch out on his own, concentrating on developing novel treatments for some of the cancer types that had not seen significant mortality improvements over the preceding 50 years. By 1998, the year in which Dr. Siegall founded Seattle Genetics, he had been working as a top cancer researcher for more than 15 years. He had decided in college that he wanted to pursue a career in cancer research when one of his family members got sick with cancer. Although they eventually pulled through, they nearly died at one point, not due to the disease itself but due to the development of severe anemia secondary to the chemotherapeutic regime that was necessary to treat it. This made Dr. Siegall realize that there must be a better way to go about fighting this horrible disease.
Upon founding Seattle Genetics, Dr. Siegall decided that he would not follow the same strategies as other pharmaceutical companies. After all, they had huge economies of scale and already had large portions of their market completely cornered. Instead, Dr. Siegall decided to go after areas which had been largely neglected and in which little progress had been made over the prior decades. One such area was the disease called non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Dr. Siegall began developing a drug called ADCetris, an antibody drug conjugate that was specifically designed for the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It eventually became the first FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate, saving the lives of thousands of patients and propelling Seattle Genetics into the realm of major pharmaceutical players.