Between the 1950s and the 1980s, cancer research largely stagnated within the United States. This was largely the product of most of the gains of cancer treatment coming from the techniques and drugs that were developed throughout the 1940s and 1950s. While these caused huge gains in survivability of many different types of cancer, the rate of increase of survival rates plummeted over the next 30 years.
However, beginning in the 1990s, many researchers began expanding the horizon of cancer treatment, exploring new mode of treating the disease through innovations in drugs, techniques and surgical interventions. One of the ways in which cancer treatment began to be revolutionized throughout the ‘90s was the development of new types of drugs, targeted cancer therapies. These were therapies that typically targeted cancer cells directly, potentially avoiding the horrible side effects associated with chemotherapy by not allowing for the systemic release of cytotoxins into the bloodstream. Early research demonstrated that these drugs showed immense promise, enabling researchers to directly bombard malignant tissues with highly lethal cytotoxins, while not racking up collateral damage in other parts of the body.
One of the most important figures in the development of this new class of drugs was a man by the name of Clay Siegall. As a senior researcher at pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dr. Siegall led a team of researchers that developed a particular class of targeted cancer therapy known as antibody drug conjugates. These were a form of drug that uses human antibodies, often created synthetically through laboratory processes, to deliver cytotoxins directly to the site of malignant tissues, thereby eliminating the potential for large-scale side effects.
Dr. Siegall immediately recognized the huge potential of this new mode of treatment. He quit his job at Bristol-Myers Squibb and formed the first biotech company in the world dedicated solely to the research and development of antibody drug conjugates. Seattle Genetics was founded in 1998 with venture capital and three years later became the record holder for the largest biotech IPO in history.
Today, Seattle Genetics has a large portfolio of antibody drug conjugates, many of which are used as treatment in some of the most difficult to treat cancer types.