An innovative device harnesses the power of electric fields to disrupt solid tumor cell division.
By Bill Doyle, Novocure
For more than 20 years, Novocure has been at the forefront of innovation, pioneering biophysical cancer treatments. With the invention and development of Tumor Treating Fields therapy, Novocure is striving to extend survival in some of the most aggressive forms of cancer.
In modern medicine, cancer treatment has relied on combinations of surgery, ionizing radiation, and drugs — each of which can come with challenging side effects. In 2011, the FDA approved a first-of-its-kind medical device for recurrent glioblastoma that changed cancer therapy expectations with its novel mechanism of action for killing cancer cells.
Yoram Palti, professor emeritus of physiology and biophysics at the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), founded Novocure in 2000 to leverage his expertise in electrophysiology and create a new way to treat solid tumor cancers. His goal was to destroy cancer cells and spare healthy tissue, improving therapeutic efficacy while avoiding many of the life-altering side effects of existing cancer therapies.
Palti built a laboratory in his basement to test his hypothesis that electric fields could kill cancer cells. In his lab, Palti proved the biophysical cell death pathway and invented the treatment he called Tumor Treating Fields. Tumor Treating Fields are intermediate frequency, low intensity alternating electric fields that disrupt cancer cell division and kill cancer cells when applied to tissue in specific ways.
An innovative, patient-forward approach
Tumor Treating Fields are delivered to patients via a wearable device developed and marketed by Novocure. The device is designed for continuous at-home use, allowing patients who are battling aggressive cancers to receive therapy to extend survival.
Designed to be used with best standard-of-care pharmacotherapies, Tumor Treating Fields therapy is approved by the FDA as a first-line treatment for adults with newly diagnosed glioblastoma. This is a particularly aggressive brain cancer. Those diagnosed with the disease typically live only 12 to 18 months.
In a randomized, phase 3 clinical trial of 695 patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma, Tumor Treating Fields therapy extended survival by five months on average. Five-year survival increased from 4% to 13% on average. Mild to moderate skin irritation was the most common device-related side effect.
Novocure’s Tumor Treating Fields delivery device is comprised of a durable, battery-operated electric field generator and disposable transducer arrays. Providing this therapy to cancer patients would be impossible without Novocure’s global supply chain, managed from our Root, Switzerland facility.
Manufacturing partners in Israel and Austria assemble the transducer array circuits are at high volumes using automated lines. Transducer arrays contain critical ceramic elements that were originally developed for sonar systems. The ceramic elements and all other critical components are manufactured by multiple sources to ensure supply continuity. The transducer array circuits are converted into finished medical products and sterilized by multiple manufacturing partners.
Pioneering continuous-use therapeutic devices
True innovation never comes without challenges. The effectiveness of Tumor Treating Fields therapy correlates with the amount of time energy is delivered to the tumor. Patients derive the best outcomes when they receive 18 or more hours of therapy per day. To provide this benefit, Novocure developed a first-of-its-kind, wearable medical device capable of continuously delivering electric fields to a patient’s tumor.
A key challenge was ensuring our devices were robust enough to be used in a patient’s home 24/7. The field generator delivers more than 20 watts of power continuously. That’s significantly more power than most home-use devices, medical or otherwise. Novocure designed proprietary circuits to deliver power efficiently (greater than 90%) while allowing wearability so patients can go about their mobile lives while receiving therapy.
A second challenge was ensuring our state-of-the-art medical devices were user-friendly and our patients were equipped with the resources to receive continuous therapy as they engaged in the activities of daily life. Early on, we learned that an accessible, hands-on patient support team was essential, so we built a one-of-a-kind medical device patient training and support network. Led by our team of field-based device specialists, Novocure’s support staff is available to patients and caregivers around the clock.
Novocure’s patient-forward approach includes a direct-to-patient distribution model. After receiving a prescription from an oncologist, a Novocure device support specialist hand-delivers devices to patients in their homes and provides in-depth training to patients and their caregivers.
Having invested more than two decades in research and development and treated more than 27,000 cancer patients across the globe so far, we are proud of our innovative work at Novocure. We are committed to improving our systems to further enhance efficacy and advancing our therapy for use in a broad spectrum of solid tumors, including non-small cell lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.
While we have come a long way since Yoram Palti invented Tumor Treating Fields, we are confident that we are only at the beginning of our journey of striving to extend survival in some of the most aggressive forms of cancer.
Bill Doyle, executive chair of Novocure, is committed to advancing the company’s patient-forward mission of extending survival in some of the most aggressive forms of cancer through the development and commercialization of its innovative therapy, Tumor Treating Fields. For more than 30 years, Doyle has dedicated his career to expanding patient access to innovative medical technologies.
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The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of Medical Design & Outsourcing or its employees.