For too long, those who received a cancer diagnosis had to choose from a hellacious trio of brutal treatments. The three main pillars of cancer treatment, since at least the 1950s, had been surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Each one of these treatments, while extremely effective, brought with them horrific side effects. Oftentimes, these treatments would prove to be worse than the disease they were designed to cure, with many patients actually dying from the treatments themselves.
But these were, nevertheless, the only choice that many patients had. They had the choice to either undergo treatments that would likely leave them extremely ill and probably scarred for life or face certain death. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the next generation of cancer treatments even began being tested in phase 1 trials. These new drugs were broadly referred to as targeted cancer therapies, with the aim of only targeting the malignancy itself, avoiding the systemic release a potent chemicals into the bloodstream or bombardment of the body with dangerous radiation.
One of the key figures in the development of targeted cancer therapies, over the last 30 years, has been Clay Siegall. After receiving an MS from the University of Maryland in biology and a PhD in genetics from George Washington University, Dr. Siegall went to work with the National Cancer Institute one of the most respected cancer research organizations in the world. He worked there for four years, laboring on some of the most exciting and cutting-edge cancer treatments then being evaluated. His talent quickly stuck out, and he was eventually recruited by pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb..
Working at Bristol-Myers Squibb from 1992 until departing in 1998, Dr. Siegall works on an entirely new class of targeted cancer therapies. These were referred to as antibody drug conjugates, drugs that use synthetic human antibodies to seek out malignant tissues, at which point they release a cytotoxic load directly into the tumor cells.
This new class of drugs dramatically reduced the side effects, in some cases completely eliminating them. It also allowed for a large increase therapeutic windows. Whereas in the past, chemotherapy regimens would need to be administered over a period of weeks, with antibody drug conjugates, they may only have to be administered one time.