Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a serious disease. It is the most common form of lymphoma, considerably more frequently occurring than the related condition of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease. Although current treatments are largely quite effective, the mortality rates for this disease have remained stable since approximately the 1960s. This is due to most of the gains in treating the disease having come from radiation and various forms of chemotherapy that were developed long ago.
However that began to change in the year 2011. That was the year that Seattle Genetics, the company led and co-founded by famed cancer researcher Clay Siegall, received its first FDA approval on one of its proprietary drugs. The drug, known as ADCetris, belongs to a class of drugs known as antibody drug conjugates. This is a highly innovative form of cancer treatment, taking the body’s own antibodies and using them as vessels to deliver highly cytotoxic chemicals to the surface of the malignancy. This approach has yielded dramatic results, lowering side effects by orders of magnitude and increasing the effectiveness of treatments by wide margins.
For those suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this class of drugs has been a godsend. Although it is not approved for first-line treatment, it has shown dramatic success in the area of 2nd line treatment, allowing notable reductions in mortality rates for those patients who were not responding adequately to first line treatment, such as radiation and chemotherapy.
Although the disease is not nearly as deadly as some other forms of cancer, such as lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, it nevertheless causes a large number of deaths every year in the United States. With over half a million people currently living in the U.S. with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it is a major public health concern. ADCetris promises to put a serious dent in both the mortality and morbidity caused by this stubborn disease.
But Seattle Genetics is also working on a large number of similar drugs that it hopes will someday be approved for the treatment of more intractable cancer types. If all works as planned, the new class of drugs known as antibody drug conjugates may someday allow for a cure.