The Israeli health care company with the biggest market cap is no longer Teva Pharmaceuticals, which trades at a $9.5 billion valuation on the New York Stock Exchange. Rather, it’s a company called Novocure, whose novel technology for treating some of the most aggressive forms of cancer has vaulted it to a market cap of $12.4 billion in the five years since it went public.
The company’s Tumor Treating Fields technology uses electrical fields tuned to specific frequencies to disrupt cell division, inhibiting tumor growth and potentially causing cancer cells to die. Specifically, it exerts forces on cellular proteins such as tubulin and septin in order to disrupt the division of cancer cells.
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The technology is based on research conducted by Prof. Yoram Palti. A former head of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in the Medical Sciences, the research arm of the medical school of Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, he founded Novocure in 2000. Today the company has some 800 employees and operations in the United States, Israel, Europe and Asia.
“It took us a long time to convince the market,” said CEO Asaf Danziger. “The market thought we wouldn’t undertake several clinical trials simultaneously, but we did it. The market didn’t think we would obtain approvals to market our product and, even if we did, no one would agree to provide insurance coverage, but we did what we promised the market.”
Novocure’s flagship product is Optune, a wearable device that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 for treating glioblastoma multiforme, among the most aggressive forms of brain cancer.
GBM affects just three out of 100,000 people per year, but the average life expectancy with conventional treatment – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – is just 16 months.
In May 2019, the FDA also approved Optune’s underlying technology, TF-100L, to treat locally advanced or metastatic malignant pleural mesothelioma in combination with chemotherapy.
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MPM is a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure that affects about 3,000 people a year in the United States. Of those, about 2,400 are candidates for treatment with the Novocure system.
On Thursday, Novocure shares closed almost 7% higher after turning in a 380% year-on-year increase in third-quarter profits. Even though the shares pulled back slightly the next day, the stock has risen 65% in the past 12 months.
Net profit was $9.3 million, or 9 cents a share, beating average analysts’ forecasts by 6 cents. Revenue climbed 44% from a year earlier and 14% from the second quarter to $133 million, $13 million more than analysts on average had expected.
The big increase in revenue was due to a 22% rise in the number of patients treated with Novocure technology. The number of prescriptions for Optune were up 4% from a year earlier, although they were down 4% from the second quarter.
In the U.S., Novocure’s biggest market, net revenue jumped year-on-year 51% to $92.6 million in the quarter. Some of that increase came from $10 million in revenue from Medicare, the U.S. government health insurance for people age 65 and up.
The revenue picture was rounded out by Germany and other European states as well as Middle Eastern and African markets, which totaled a net $28.2 million, a 15% increase from the third quarter of 2019. In Japan, net revenue rose 57% to $7.5 million and in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan jumped 205% to $4.3 million.
Danziger said the company was just starting to tap the potential of the China market, saying that its local distributor, Zai Lab, had impressed him with its ability to care for and support the patient population.
In addition, Danziger noted that Novocure’s revenues are based entirely on brain cancer treatment. Its MPM still lacks insurance coverage for patients, but he said he was optimistic that it would begin generating revenues.
More applications for its core technology lie ahead. Novocure is due to issue an interim analysis of a phase three pivotal LUNAR trial in non-small-cell lung cancer. It also plans to issue an interim analysis of a phase three pivotal PANOVA-3 trial in locally advanced pancreatic cancer as well as an interim analysis of a phase three pivotal INNOVATE-3 trial in recurrent ovarian cancer.