Clay Siegall discusses work, cancer research and building a company

Clay Siegall recently sat down to do an interview with an internet outlet regarding his incredible rise from cancer researcher to one of the most prominent CEOs in the biomedical space today. Dr. Clay Siegall maintains that the one factor that was critical to his success was his passion for cancer research and his ability to work hard add focus, even through times of great difficulty and uncertainty.


Dr. Siegall founded Seattle Genetics in 1998. At that time he had just left Bristol-Myers Squibb as a senior researcher, where he was working on an exciting new class of drugs called antibody drug conjugates. These drugs took elements of the patient’s own immune system and used that to bind highly toxic chemicals, which are then delivered via antibodies directly to the site of the tumor. This targeted approach allows for dramatically increased levels of the drug to be circulated throughout the patient’s body, leading to far more effective treatment courses and much shorter durations of exposure to the highly lethal cytotoxins that make up the chemotherapeutic agents that are involved in killing the tumor.


It was this class of drugs that Dr. Siegall saw as holding so much potential for the future of cancer treatment. He founded Seattle Genetics, hoping to capitalize on many of the insights that he had while working for Bristol-Myers Squibb. He felt that running his own company would be a much more propitious and rewarding way to go about cancer research. Dr. Siegall discusses how he was frustrated by the structure of patent ownership that was in place at the large pharmaceutical companies for which he previously worked. Patent holders would oftentimes invent technologies that led to millions or even billions of dollars in profits. But those inventors would never see significant portions of the revenues from those ideas.


Dr. Siegall saw owning his own company as a way to not only increase his own motivation to continue innovating in the field of cancer research but also to provide a solid incentivization to his own staff through stock options and other executive-style compensation packages, keeping them motivated to continue innovating cutting-edge treatments.


Between 1998 and 2017, Dr. Siegall grew Seattle Genetics from a fledgling startup into a serious contender in the biomedical space.