For most of human history, a diagnosis of cancer was generally a death sentence. Although some patients with some types of cancers were able to live for a number of years, in most cases, a cancer diagnosis meant that the patient had little more than a few months to live. Even with the advent of modern surgical techniques, the survival rates for most types of cancers were dismal.
That did not begin to significantly change until the 1930s and 40s, when both radiation and primitive chemotherapies began coming on the market as ways to effectively treat various types of cancer. It was also in this period when surgical excision techniques began to come into their own as truly effective means of curing certain types of non-metastatic cancers in the earliest stages.
However, these treatments came with trade-offs. While some forms of cancer, such as breast cancer, melanoma and certain types of intestinal cancers, saw dramatic improvements in survivability, others were barely touched by the new treatments. In fact, between about 1950 and 1990, the overall improvement and survivability of most types of cancers was modest at best.
But the worst aspect of these treatments was the brutality that most engendered. Many of the surgeries to remove cancerous growths involved large-scale excisions and even amputations. The other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, often involved bringing the patient to near-death in order to rid the body of fast reproducing cancer cells. The side effects of all these treatments were often horrific, with patients routinely ending up scarred for life and oftentimes having severe disabilities as a result of the treatments.
But one man decided to change all of this. Clay Siegall, co-founder of Seattle Genetics, has developed a new model of cancer treatment. He’s invented a new class of drugs called antibody drug conjugates. Using the body’s own immune response against cancer cells, an antibody drug conjugate is able to bind a highly toxic chemical to an antibody, only releasing the cytotoxin upon contact with the malignant cell.
This has radically transformed cancer treatment and promises to someday deliver a cure.