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Novocure, fastest growing biotech no one knows about

July 13, 2017

There are currently three modalities for treating cancer—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy of some type. One company, Novocure (NVCR), is making headway with a fourth modality, called tumor treating fields, or TTFields.

Brian Feroldi, writing for The Motley Fool, interviews the executive chairman of the company and provides an inside look.

With corporate offices in Jersey Isle, U.K., Novocure has U.S. operations in Portsmouth, N.H., Malvern, Penn., and New York City. It also has European operations in Switzerland and Germany, as well as in Japan and Israeli. Novacure was founded in 2002 by Yoram Palti, professor emeritus of physiology and biophysics at the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology.

TTFields, broadly speaking, are like setting up electric fields around a tumor. Similar to the way MRI works by running a magnetic field over cells, causing them to align, Novacure’s technology runs an electric field that acts on polar proteins.

Bill Doyle, Novocure’s executive chairman, told Feroldi, “During cells division, polar proteins need to be exactly the right place at exactly the right time to pull the chromosomes into the daughter cells. This is the so-called microtubule spindle that’s formed during mitosis, and when the cell is exposed to electric fields, the protein that make up the tubule spindles, we apply forces to them, they don’t form proper spindles, the cells don’t divide properly, and instead of one cell becoming two and two becoming four, one cell essentially self-destructs when it can’t divide.”

One advantage is that there are no systemic toxic effects. The company developed a device called Optune, which Feroldi describes as “batteries, electronics, and transducer arrays that are affixed directly to the skin near where the tumor resides. Once Optune is turned on, it surrounds the tumor with an electric field that inhibits its ability to multiply.”

The company announced yesterday that doctors at more than 600 cancer treatment centers in the U.S. have been certified to prescribe the device to newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma (GBM) patients, a type of brain cancer. And another 350 medical institutions outside the U.S. can prescribe it as well.

“As a pioneer of community-based oncology, we strive to enhance patient access to innovative cancer treatments so patients can stay connected to the support of their families, friends and community during the challenging time of a cancer diagnosis,” said Joseph Hodges, a radiation oncology and certified Optune prescriber at Texas Oncology in Longview, Texas, in a statement. “Optune provides immense benefit to GBM patients, and we are excited to now offer this treatment to our patients.”

Optune has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2011. It has also been approved to treat newly diagnosed GBM in combination with temozolomide chemotherapy.

The company also recently released long-term data form its EF-14 clinical trial, which evaluated Optune with standard-of-care chemotherapy. It showed overall survival rates improved at two, three, four, and five years. In the five-year study, the combination of Optune and chemotherapy showed a five-year survival rate of 13 percent, more than double the 5 percent rate seen in the chemotherapy-only group.

The company believes Optune will have applications in other types of cancers as well. It has presented data on clinical trials in ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer, with positive results. Other studies include brain metastases, non-small cell lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Novocure also has a slightly different business model, where it rolls all the charges into a single package, not just selling the device and billing for each time it is used. Doyle told Feroldi, “We have our own code for that therapy. It’s a much better way for patients and payers. If a patient needs to change his arrays every two days, that’s not an issue. If they need a huge amount of tech support for whatever reason, if they’re having challenges, it’s not an issue. So, it’s very similar to a drug model, where you pay by the month for the medication that you require for as long as you’re taking the medication.”

The list price is about $21,000 per month, consistent with other cancer treatments. The company’s top-line grew by 167 percent year-over-year in the last quarter, while operating expenses declined by 1 percent.


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