Anyone who follows the biotech field knows that Clay Siegall is one of the biggest names in the business. After having founded his startup, Seattle Genetics, in 1998, Dr. Siegall has grown the firm into one of the world’s preeminent targeted cancer therapy research and development companies, worldwide. The company currently has 20 drugs in the development pipeline and is marketing is first fully FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate. But its wild successes of late belie its humble beginnings.
Clay Siegall first became interested in cancer treatments while still in college. During that time, a close family member became ill with cancer. Dr. Siegall was dismayed when his family member nearly died. This was not due to the cancer itself but, instead, was due to side effects of the brutal chemotherapy regime. The family member developed severe anemia as a result of the Cisplatin drugs he was taking, nearly killing him. Dr. Siegall believed that there must be a better way to treat cancer, one that would not carry the risk of death to those taking the drug designed to combat the illness.
This is one of the key events in Dr. Siegall’s life that let him to become a cancer researcher. After getting a PhD in genetics from George Washington University, Dr. Siegall was recruited by the National Cancer Institute, one of the foremost publicly funded research institutes in the world. After rising through the ranks of cancer researchers and proving himself as an able scientist, Dr. Siegall was recruited by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
There, he and his team began developing an exciting new line of drugs that had never been seen before. Dr. Siegall named these antibody drug conjugates, drugs that actually use the body’s own immune system to seek out cancer cells, releasing a lethal dose of cytotoxin to the cell. But the beauty of these new drugs was that they did not require the systemic release of a large amount of highly toxic chemotherapeutic agents into the bloodstream. In theory, this would reduce the side effects or even eliminate them entirely. It was an extremely promising new line of research.
It was after working on this new class of drugs for around five years that Dr. Siegall decided to form his own company that would be solely dedicated to the research and production of this new line of exciting drugs. In 1998, he founded Seattle Genetics for exactly this purpose.
Today, Seattle Genetics is the undisputed leader in antibody drug conjugate development. Its first FDA-approved drug, ADCetris, is the first antibody drug conjugate of its kind to be approved by that agency. Each year, these drugs save thousands of lives.