'Head Zapper' Helping Brain Tumor Patients Live Longer, Thanks to Israeli Company

Company founded by Israeli professor announced results of Stage III trial indicating terminal patients can extend overall life by three months.

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Kristina Sirca in August credited the scalp device with extending her life by a year.
Kristina Sirca in August credited the scalp device with extending her life by a year.Credit: UCIrvineHealth.org

Brain tumor patients can extend their lives by wearing a device on their scalp that creates an alternating electric field, a company founded by a former Hebrew University professor announced Saturday.

Novocure, a commercial stage oncology company announced at a conference of the Society for Neuro-Oncology in Miami, Florida, that "Tumor Treating Fields" delivered by the system it has developed, in combination with standard chemotherapy, extended the lives of patients who received solely chemo in a phase III trial. The portable system, called NovoTTF-100A, "slows and reverses tumor growth by inhibiting mitosis, the process by which cells divide and replicate," Novocure announced. "The system creates a low intensity, alternating electric field within a tumor that exerts physical forces on electrically charged cellular components, preventing the normal mitotic process and causing cancer cell death."

Overall survival improved from 16.6 months to 19.6 months in the study, according to Novocure, which funded the trial. The percentage of patients surviving two years increased from 29% to 43% for those who received both chemo and the Tumor Treating Fields.

“These results are spectacular – a lot better and much more convincing than we ever would have dreamt of,” said Dr. Roger Stupp, director of the University Hospital Cancer Center at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who was the trial's principal investigator. “A new standard of care for patients suffering from glioblastoma is born.”

Glioblastoma is the most common form of primary brain cancer with approximately 10,000 patients diagnosed each year in the United States, according to Novocure. Overall survival with standard of care temozolomide chemotherapy alone is approximately 15 months.

Kristina Sirca, a retired school teacher, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2012 and began treatment with NovoTTF in August 2013, according to the UC Irvine Health website. Shewas referred to the treatment after she was unable to tolerate chemotherapy.

Sirca described the device as a "head zapper" on the UC Irvine Health website. "I don't necessarily feel the electrical impulses," she said. "But I do feel some tingling and they sometimes generate a little heat."

She said she knows the tumor is terminal but credited the device with giving her an extra year of life. "They say that only 10 percent of people with this survive more than five years," said Sirca. "But there's no reason why I can't be part of that 10 percent."

Novocure was founded by Yoram Palti, who currently serves as Chief Technology Officer. Palti previously served as a R&D physicist at AccuBeat and a micro-electronic devices lab instructor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Based in the Isle of Jersey, the company also has U.S. operations and a research center in Haifa, Israel, as well as offices in Switzerland and Japan.

The trial group consisted of the first 315 patients, about half the number of people in the entire trial.

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