Clay Siegall concentrates on improving cancer survivability

The major cancer breakthroughs of the 20th century took place in the decades of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Prior to that, most people who got cancer had a very poor chance of surviving much more than about 1 year. The five-year survival rates for many types of cancers were dismally low, with nearly all patients who contracted those diseases dying prior to the end of that period.

That all began to change, with the advent of radiation and chemotherapy as viable means of treating certain types of cancer. In fact, nearly all cancer types benefited substantially from the development of chemotherapy and radiation. However, certain types of cancers, such as breast cancer, melanoma and colon cancer, saw dramatic improvements in survivability. This was doubly true with the refinement of surgical excision techniques, which began becoming a far more viable means of not just treating cancer but curing it.

However, the vast gains in survivability that were seen between the 1930s and 1960s were essentially confined to that era. Between approximately 1950 and 1990, few cancer types saw real gains in survivability. The stagnation was largely due to the vast majority of gains in survivability being attributable to the three major treatment breakthroughs of radiation, chemotherapy and improved surgical techniques. For many types of cancer, the five-year survival rates in 1990 were little different than they were in 1950.


Clay Siegall, one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers, decided to do something about the stagnation in the five-year survival rates of many types of cancers. In 1998, he founded Seattle Genetics, a company dedicated to developing new drugs for cancer subtypes that have not seen substantial mortality improvements over the last three to five decades.

The company’s first FDA-approved drug, ADCetris, is an antibody drug conjugate certified for the treatment of refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This innovative drug has dramatically improved patient outcomes for the subset of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sufferers who are not responding well to first line treatments. With this drug, Dr. Siegall has saved thousands of lives.