When launched, Novocure could end up as one of healthcare's hottest IPOs Print E-mail
By M.E.Garza   
Monday, 18 April 2011 08:20
You may have missed the news, but privately held device maker Novocure said Friday that the Food and Drug Administration approved its first-of-a-kind treatment that fights cancerous brain tumors using electrical energy fields.

Sure, Novocure is not publicly traded yet, but the company based in Portsmouth, N.H., and Haifa, Israel, has not only been testing its device in other types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer, it already counts WFD Ventures, Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson among it's investors.  When Pfizer invested in the company in late 2009, Pfizer Ventures director Bill Burkoth called it, "A completely novel approach to fighting cancer" and said the investment "aligned with Pfizer's goal to help oncology patients live longer, healthier lives." In contrast to Johnson & Johnson, which had already invested in several Israeli medical devices start-ups, this marked Pfizer Ventures' first investment in an Israeli company.

It has been a long road to this FDA approval, and now there is word that the company may be going public. If rumors are true, this could be one of the highest flying initial public offerings (IPO) the biotech sector has seen in some time- especially given the anticipated commercial adoption and excitement surrouding the non-invasive technology on Wall Street among biotech heavy bankers like Rodman & Renshaw.

Late last week, the FDA approved the device for patients with aggressive brain tumors that have returned after treatment with chemotherapy and other interventions. As you know, patients with recurring brain cancer usually live only a few months. And while studies showed that people using the device lived about as long as those taking chemotherapy, roughly six months, patients using the device had far far fewer side effects.

Its interesting to note that a 237-patient study failed to show a survival benefit for patients using the device, compared with those taking chemotherapy. Patients in both groups lived just over six months, on average. However, those in the device group reported higher quality of life and did not have the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, diarrhea and infection.

The technology uses electric fields to disrupt the division of cancer cells that allows tumors to grow and spread. The electric fields have little effect on healthy cells because they divide at a much slower rate, if at all, compared with cancer cells. The company pipeline shows that the technology has applications in other types of cancers. For decades, doctors have treated cancer with three methods: drugs, radiation or surgery. Novocure's NovoTTF device would represent a fourth approach and already some oncologists who have been monitoring the story say they will recommend use of the portable device off-label as soon as it becomes available.

"The reason why this is so exciting is that we now have FDA approval of a totally new type of treatment for cancer," said Dr. Herb Engelhard, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "All of us as investigators were skeptical at first, but I have seen the scans and I believe this is killing cancer cells in patients," Engelhard told the Associated Press.

"This is as effective, or better, than anything that's ever been tried after standard treatment has failed. And while you're on it, you don't have any side effects from the treatment." said Al Musella, founder of the Musella Foundation for Brain Tumor Research and Information in Hewlett, N.Y. Musella's father and sister-in-law died of brain cancer.

The FDA approved the device specifically for a tumor type known as glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Five-year survival for the disease is just 2 percent for patients over 45 years old, according to American Cancer Society. About 19,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with brain cancer each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Standard treatment is six weeks of high-dose radiation along with a chemotherapy pill, and then additional chemotherapy for at least six months or until the tumor stops responding.

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