Clay Siegall follows dream, invents new class of cancer treatment drugs

Cancer treatment has traditionally entailed some of the most brutal regimes in medicine today. From radical surgery to radiation and chemotherapy, cancer treatment, since at least the 1930s, has been a torturous trial of endurance for any patient unlucky enough to receive a cancer diagnosis. Oftentimes, even the milder treatments, such as low dosage chemotherapies, will leave the patient with lasting deficits, such as neuropathy, dementia and other long-term neurological disorders.

However, there is a huge reward that has come with these terrible treatment. Cancer survival rates have increased dramatically over the last 70 years. Some cancers, which once were nearly always fatal, are now almost always curable, with five-year survival rates exceeding 99 percent. Prior to the 1930s, most diagnoses of cancer were tantamount to a death sentence. Few patients lived more than a couple of years.

Still, many types of cancer today do not have significantly better survival rates than they did 30 or 40 years ago. This is due largely to the fact that the three pillars of cancer treatment, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy essentially stopped getting better around the year 1960. While there have been certain improvements with some subtypes of cancer, many others have not seen any notable increases in survivability in the last 50 years.

But that began to change in the mid-1990s. Clay Siegall is one of the key players in developing the new class of drugs known as targeted cancer therapies. Most targeted therapies use the principle of targeting the malignancy directly, only releasing cytotoxic chemicals upon contact with the actual cancer cells. This reduces the worst side effects caused by chemotherapy, which is a medicinal blunt instrument, oftentimes releasing large amounts of poison directly into the bloodstream.

Aside from the near elimination of side effects, targeted cancer therapies are also able to dramatically increase the therapeutic window, allowing for much higher doses of cytotoxin and much more effective treatments.

Through his firm, Seattle Genetics, Dr. Siegall is continuing to develop this exciting new category of cancer treatment drugs, ensuring that the 21st century will see dramatic improvements in survivability of many subtypes of cancer.