In the Fall of 2018 scientists and researchers from Novocure, an oncology company that specializes in treating solid tumors, were hopeful their latest success with Tumor Treating Fields therapy would lead to FDA approval and ultimately, more options for those suffering from mesothelioma. After a successful clinical trial, these hopes became a reality as the FDA approved the NovoTTF-100L System for mesothelioma treatment. This is the first time in 15 years a new treatment has been approved for the asbestos-caused cancer.
NovoTTF-100L System is a tumor treating fields (TTF) device that alternates between frequencies that when applied to the tumor help to attack and disrupt tumor growth, without harming the surrounding healthy tissue. Developed by Novocure, NovoTTF-100L System works in conjunction with chemotherapy treatment pemetrexed, which until now, was the only first line FDA approved treatment for mesothelioma.
In this latest study, 80 patients with unresectable pleural mesothelioma were investigated. The average age was 67 years, over half were smokers, and 84% were male. Patients were continuously given a combination treatment of pemetrexed and platinum along with 150 kilohertz (kHz) from the TTF. At this specific frequency, the NovoTTF-100L System is able to alternate electric fields which disrupt cell division. The cancerous cells are unable to spread and ultimately die, while healthy cells are spared.
Patients were monitored for one year. Results from this trial found that the average overall survival was six months longer than previously recorded; 18.2 months. Progression free survival -which is the length of time after treatment that the illness doesn’t become worse – was 7.6 months. The previous average was 5.7 months. Side effects remained minimal. A slight rash from the NovoTTF-100L System site was reported, but it noted that the rash went away after the treatment was stopped.
The NovoTTF-100L System is also portable, and can be administered in the comfort of one’s home, as long as it is done by a licensed health care professional. Physicians can train and qualify home caregivers to administer this treatment.
What’s Next for Mesothelioma Patients?
The timeframe between drug approval and market availability can vary between days and months and is typically dependent on how prepared the company is to launch. After a drug is approved by the FDA, marketing aspects -such as the label design and color scheme – have to be determined and approved. Making sure that drugs are marketed correctly and ads are not misleading are crucial final steps that have to be taken before a treatment can become available to the public.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, affecting only 3,000 Americans each year. However, the disease is almost always fatal, and there is no cure. The aggressive nature of mesothelioma makes it difficult to treat and for many, by the time they are diagnosed, are already in the later stages of the disease. With this recent advancement in medicine, researchers and scientists have opened the doors to new possibilities in how mesothelioma is typically treated. Having more options available to patients, could lead to an overall increase in survival.
Novocure, “FDA Approves the NovoTTF-100L™ System in Combination with Chemotherapy for the Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma” (May 23, 2019). [Link]