Between the beginning of the 20th century and the 1960s, the largest gains ever seen in the ability to treat cancer took place. Many types of cancer that had previously been a death sentence became curable. Diseases such as small cell lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer became diseases that people can live with over the long term or even be rid of completely.
But for many types of cancers, this dramatic progress began to slow throughout the latter half of the 20th century. By the decade of the 2000’s, many cancers had stopped seeing significant improvement in their five-year mortality rate. Diseases such as pancreatic cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had seen virtually no increase in survivability over the preceding 40 years by the middle of 2000’s.
For this reason, Clay Siegall, founder of biotech giant Seattle Genetics, decided to concentrate his companies research and development efforts on cancers that had not seen significant improvement. He knew that his innovative new line of drugs, called antibody drug conjugates, would be able to extend significant benefits to those patients suffering from diseases that had not seen substantial mortality improvement. Dr. Siegall decided to focus the company’s initial efforts in getting the first FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate for the disease non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which had not seen significant mortality improvements since the 1970s.
After working on developing the first antibody drug conjugate for use with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the company’s first retail antibody drug conjugate, ADCetris, was approved by the FDA for use in refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the year 2011. This drug proved to be a game-changing advent on the cancer treatment scene, proving itself highly effective in the treatment of refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and opening the way for additional drugs to be developed for many other types of cancer.
As a result of the huge success that ADCetris enjoyed over the last 6 years, Seattle Genetics has begin the development of many other types of antibody drug conjugates. Dr. Siegall hopes that the company will have as many as 20 FDA-approved antibody drug conjugates by the end of 2025, an accomplishment that would be a remarkable culmination of the long journey of one company to bring these exciting new drugs to the market.
In the meantime, ADCetris is saving thousands of lives every year and may soon be approved for frontline treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dr. Siegall believes that the drug will also be approved for other off-label treatments soon, potentially leading to the first antibody drug conjugate capable of saving tens of thousands of lives each year.