One of the key problems that have faced the treatment of cancer over the years is the extreme side effects caused by the main line treatments. The triad of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery have been the mainstay of cancer treatment since the 1950s. However, all of those treatments come with horrendous side-effects, up to and including the death of the patient. These terrible adverse outcomes have long been a primary motivating factor in the quest to seek new modes of cancer treatment that retain or even improve upon the overall effectiveness of the older methods while reducing or completely eliminating the side effects that come with them.
The area of cancer research that sprung up in the late 1980s, referred to as targeted cancer therapies, includes a wide range of completely disparate treatments. Some of these involve the modification of genetics. Others involve mechanical treatments that make use of nanoscopic-level precision, such as the use of automated laser systems to excise malignant tissue.
But one method of targeted cancer therapy that has proven to be both effective and highly innovative is the use of antibody drug conjugates. This class of drugs was developed by a man named Clay Siegall and his team at Bristol-Myers Squibb in the mid-90s. Using antibodies derived from real humans, which are often synthetically produced in the laboratory, antibody drug conjugates bind a cytotoxin to the anti body itself, only allowing for the release of the highly lethal chemical when it has actually come into contact with the tumor site.
In theory, this method of delivering chemotherapeutic agents can eliminate completely the horrible side effects that come with mass systemic release of poison into the bloodstream. In practice, it is always a bit more complicated. However, antibody drug conjugates that have been approved for use in the general public have indeed proven that it is possible to radically reduce the side effects that are associated with traditional chemotherapy.
Dr. Siegall, through his company, Seattle Genetics, is currently producing the only FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate. It has been approved for use in refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is marketed under the brand name ADCetris. This drug has saved thousands of lives each year and holds the promise of being approved by the FDA for many other treatments.
If things continue on the same course for Seattle Genetics, within a decade, Dr. Siegall may be the most famous name in the pharmaceutical industry.