One of the determining factors that decides whether or not a drug will be available for over-the-counter use or will only be available by prescription is what’s known as the therapeutic window. This is the amount of the drug between which clinical effects first start to be able to be noted and the point at which the drug becomes likely to cause serious adverse effects or overdose in person taking it. Generally speaking, the wider the therapeutic window is, the safer the drug.
However, many drugs used to treat the most serious illnesses have a relatively narrow therapeutic window. For this reason, they’re not only available by prescription only but often times actually need to be administered under the active care of an attending physician. This is the case with such drugs as anesthesia, morphine and chemotherapy. In the case of the latter drug, the reason that chemotherapeutic regimens fail is not due to the ineffectiveness of the agent. Instead, the ineffectiveness of any given chemotherapeutic regimen is usually due to the inability of the oncologist to administer sufficient quantities of the agent in order to fight the tumor.
In fact, this small therapeutic window has been the bane of chemotherapy for as long as it’s existed. Oncologists have long known that if the amount of chemotherapeutic agent that can safely be administered could be significantly increased, the effectiveness of chemotherapy in general could be dramatically increased.
One man, Clay Siegall, has undertaken the task of finding a way to do exactly that. Through his company, Seattle Genetics, he has been researching and developing a new class of drugs called antibody drug conjugates for the last 20 years. Antibody drug conjugates use a synthetic antibody in order to deliver the chemotherapeutic agent directly to the site of the cancer cell, eliminating any systemic release and all of the horrible side effects associated with massive doses of drugs like cisplatin being released into the patient’s body.
In theory, this exciting new class of drugs is capable of completely eliminating all side effects previously associated with chemotherapy, allowing for massive doses of the drugs to be directly delivered to the site of the tumor. This often leads to the complete destruction of all malignant tissues, frequently allowing the patient to become cancer-free.
Seattle Genetics currently has more than 20 drugs in the development pipeline and is working on developing dozens more. Through efforts like these, it is saving thousands of lives every year.