Clay Siegall discusses power of antibody drug conjugates

For too long, the only option for those who have received a cancer diagnosis has been the three traditional means of treatment. These include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, all of these treatment options have horrible associated side effects, oftentimes leaving patients with permanent disfigurement, neurological impairment and other permanent disabilities. But despite their brutality, these treatment options are highly effective in many cases, enabling people who would have once died from the disease to go on living relatively full and long lives.

Clay Siegall first became aware of the horrific side effects of cancer treatment while still in college. One of his family members got a rare form of cancer, which necessitated aggressive chemotherapy to treat it. During the course of treatment, the family member developed severe anemia and nearly died. This left Dr. Siegall scratching his head, wondering what kind of treatment it is that can kill a patient before the disease does. He thought there was a better way.

He eventually got an MS from the University of Maryland in biology as well as a PhD in genetics from George Washington University, deciding that he would spend his career dedicated to cancer research. Upon receiving his doctorate in genetics, he was hired by the National Cancer Institute. He worked there for more than four years, working on a number of novel approaches to cancer treatment called targeted cancer therapies. Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, this was the absolute cutting edge of cancer research science, with the development of targeted therapies promising to eventually put into the hands of physicians and patients the ability to treat cancer without any side effects.

Dr. Siegall quickly rose through the ranks. His talents were eventually noticed by headhunters from major pharmaceutical companies. He received a job offer from Bristol-Myers Squibb, which he accepted. There, he began developing the first of a class of drugs known as antibody drug conjugates. These drugs used human antibodies as a delivery vehicle for highly cytotoxic chemicals, enabling physicians to directly infuse the tumor site with chemotherapeutic agents, avoiding systemic release of highly toxic poison into the bloodstream.

Today, Dr. Siegall’s invention is being used to treat real patients, saving thousands of lives.