Devices & Diagnostics

Electric field therapy could stop tumor growth in brain cancer

Brain tumors are usually treated with an intense course of cancer’s Big Three: Surgery, radiation and heavy chemotherapy. Medical device startup Novocure is adding a new treatment option into the mix: Electrofield therapy, in which alternating electric fields shut down cellular division – curbing the growth of cancer. It’s called Optune. And it seems to be wildly […]

Brain tumors are usually treated with an intense course of cancer’s Big Three: Surgery, radiation and heavy chemotherapy. Medical device startup Novocure is adding a new treatment option into the mix: Electrofield therapy, in which alternating electric fields shut down cellular division – curbing the growth of cancer. It’s called Optune.

And it seems to be wildly successful. Novocure just announced it’s ending a Phase III trial in newly diagnosed brain cancer patients early, extending the electric field therapy to controls and treated subjects alike. The patients’ lives were extended by about three months on average, a meaningful window of time with such fast-acting cancers.

CEO Bill Doyle describes, in the 2012 TEDMED talk seen above, Novocure’s Phase III results at the time in brain cancer. But here’s how it works:

The company uses low intensity electric fields that disrupt cellular replication. These tumor-treating fields, shortened to TTFields, exert actual physical force on the charged parts of cells, stopping processes like the formation of the mitotic spindle, and actually killing the cells themselves before they divide. See a descriptive video here.

After two days, the company says, cancer cells proliferate in the control sample – but in the treatment sample, the only cells surviving are those who didn’t attempt to divide.

The device is highly portable – it sits in a backpack that patients can carry around as they c their day-to-day activities, receiving constant electrotherapy over the course of two days. For the brain cancers, it can be worn, hat-like, on a patient’s head.

The six-year-old company has operations in New Hampshire, Israel, Jersey and Switzerland. Investors include Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., Index Ventures, WFD Ventures, Pfizer Ventures and Medtronic.

The TTField therapies are in the midst of clinical trials in four cancers – glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly brain cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, ovarian carcinoma and brain metastasis for non-small cell carcinoma. Here’s the pipeline:

It’s received FDA clearance for recurrent glioblastomas in adults, and has launched commercially in Europe.