Over the course of the 20th century, astonishing advances were made in a wide range of medical fields. Many of these led to the complete eradication of deadly illnesses, such as smallpox, malaria and measles, at least from first world countries. Other significant developments included the advent of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, advances in surgical excision and radiation treatments. While these ladder therapies did not entirely cure cancer, they made certain types of the disease survivable, with patients often times living to die of other causes.
Unfortunately, the advancements made in the area of cancer research significantly slowed throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st. Between the 1950s and 1990s, there were few material gains made in the survivability of most types of cancer. Even today, some types of cancer, such as pancreatic cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma, have roughly the same survivability rates that they had in the 1950s. However, a few researchers believe this is on the brink of changing.
Clay Siegall is one of the nation’s foremost researchers in the field of targeted cancer therapies. After having co-founded Seattle Genetics, a pharmaceutical giant dedicated to the production of antibody drug conjugates, a type of targeted cancer therapy, Dr. Siegall has become convinced that cancer’s days of being one of the nation’s leading killers are rapidly coming to a close. However, Dr. Siegall is extremely careful to couch his optimism in realistic terms. He cautions against extreme optimism, reminding people that it is unlikely that cancer, as a single entity, will ever be cured, at least in the traditional sense of that word. What is far more likely, Dr. Siegall says, is that cancer subtypes, one by one, will eventually go the way of AIDS, becoming long-term illnesses that people can live with, in a way that does not significantly decrease their life expectancies.
Dr. Siegall believes that, through the miracle of targeted cancer therapies and especially antibody drug conjugates, cancers like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma will soon be survivable enough that the vast majority of patients suffering from those diseases will live to die of other causes. While this may not be as good as an actual cure, the results will be much the same.