After a decade-plus career as a corporate medical researcher, Dr. Clay Siegall decided he could most profit humanity by striking out on his own. In 1998, the accomplished medical innovator founded Seattle Genetics, a firm dedicated to the study and development of antibody drug conjugate applications. In 2001, Dr. Siegall oversaw one of the largest IPO’s in the microbiology sector. Generating $1.2 billion, Seattle Genetics found itself awash in capital and able to pursue its many lines of research with an intensity and fervor which has not been previously achievable. In 2011, Seattle Genetics’ first drug was approved by the FDA. Adcetris is an antibody drug conjugate approved for treatment of refractory classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It has already fundamentally transformed the way that disease is treated, and the 12 new antibody drug conjugates in the company’s development pipeline promise to revolutionize the treatment of other forms of cancer on short order.
Of mice to men
Seattle Genetics has devised ingenious methods of repurposing nature’s machinery to fight disease. One of its patented processes is the generation of tumor-specific monoclonal antibodies. First, a certain type of tumor is grafted into the body of a mouse. The mouse’s body then initiates an immune response to attempt to fight the foreign body. In doing this, it creates antibodies which are designed to chemically bind to the tumor cells so that they can destroy them. Unfortunately, with most cancers, the body’s natural means of killing malignant cells is insufficient. But it still creates the molecular template for finding and attaching antibodies to the tumor cells.
Once the antibodies are isolated, researchers create every molecule that is close enough to the antibody to still attach to the tumor. In some cases, this can yield thousands of molecules. These synthetic antibodies are then tested on humans, to see which ones cause the least side effects and are best at attaching to the tumor. When the most suitable molecules have been selected, the researchers then design a cytotoxin that can be chemically bound or conjugated to the antibody. Now, when the antibody encounters the tumor cell, instead of the body’s ineffective anti-tumor payload, the antibody now contains a payload of a highly lethal cytotoxin, which it delivers into the tumor cell upon contact