While still in graduate school, Clay Siegall first became aware of the severe side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy. After a family member fell ill with cancer, Dr. Clay Siegall was shocked to learn that they were nearly killed by the drug designed to treat the disease. Dr. Siegall felt that if the cure was worse than the disease, something must be seriously wrong.
This led him to pursue a career in cancer research. After graduating with a PhD in genetics from George Washington University and an MS from the University of Maryland in biology, Dr. Siegall was recruited by the National Cancer Institute, one of the most prestigious research organizations in America. There, he worked on an exciting new category of drugs known as targeted cancer therapies. The idea behind targeted cancer therapies was that if the malignancies could be directly targeted, rather than permitting large scale systemic release of highly lethal poisons into the bloodstream, patients could not only be spared the effects of chemotherapy but also the amount of drugs delivered directly to the site of the malignancies could be dramatically increased, potentially leading to much more effective treatment.
After working at the National Cancer Institute for a period of four years, Dr. Siegall was recruited by Bristol-Myers Squibb. He was then granted senior leadership over a research team, enabling him to have wide latitude over the projects under his command. It was during this time that Dr. Siegall first began synthesizing an exciting new class of drugs known as antibody drug conjugates. These used synthetic human antibodies as the delivery mechanism to attach a highly lethal cytotoxin and directly target the site of the tumor. Doing this almost completely eliminated the side effects associated with traditional chemotherapies, along with dramatically increasing the levels of cytotoxins that could be delivered to the malignant tissues.
After working for a period of almost a decade at Bristol-Myers Squibb, developing some of the most cutting-edge cancer drugs that the world has ever seen, Dr. Siegall decided to branch off onto his own. In 1998, he formed Seattle Genetics, the first pharmaceutical company dedicated solely to the production and research of antibody drug conjugates.