Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not a particularly the deadly form of cancer. But its extremely widespread incidence still makes it one of the more serious public health threats in the United States today. Prior to the year 2010, very little research had been directed at this potentially deadly disease. Unsurprisingly, there had been extremely little progress made in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, as a result, the survival rates for the disease had not significantly improved since the 1970s.
Then, in the 1990s, a researcher exploded onto the scene with a new class of drugs that promised to make real headway into the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as many other forms of cancer that had not seen significant improvements in mortality over the last few decades. Clay Siegall, at that time an employee with pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, was leading a team of researchers that developed the first viable drugs in the category of a new class of treatments called antibody drug conjugates.
Working as a senior researcher for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dr. Siegall began working on this exciting new breakthrough, being one of the first researchers in the field to have the idea of using synthetic human antibodies in order to deliver high doses of lethal cytotoxins, directly to the surface of the malignancy. Of course, this highly novel approach was easier said than done. It would take Dr. Siegall and his team more than 15 years to finally perfect the processes by which antibody drug conjugates could be successfully synthesized and implemented. But in the end, this Herculean effort paid off in spades.
Today, antibody drug conjugates are one of the frontline treatments in a wide variety of cancer types. One of those is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, where ADCetris, Seattle Genetics’ main antibody drug conjugate, has been FDA-approved to fight refractory forms of the disease. It has already radically increased the survivability of this terrible ailment and has lowered the incidence of side effects to levels where they’re almost imperceptible.