Mesothelioma Cells: Can Mild Electric Pulses Kill Them?

A therapy designed to promote the death of mesothelioma cells by subjecting them to low-intensity, alternating electric fields during chemotherapy is being clinically tested in Europe.

The company that developed the therapy, Novocure, announced in February that it had begun enrolling mesothelioma patients into a Phase II clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of Tumor Treating Fields therapy.

Patients receive Tumor Treating Fields therapy — or simply TTFields — around-the-clock through a small device they carry with them wherever they go.

According to Novocure, the TTFields device sends the alternating electric fields into the mesothelioma tumors.

Mesothelioma Cells Disrupted

The fields disrupt the activity of the individual mesothelioma cells making up the tumor. This causes them to die off.

At least it does in the lab. Now the company wants to see how good a job the device does when the mesothelioma cells are those on the lung linings of real people.

The underlying principle behind TTFields therapy is that the electrically charged parts of each individual mesothelioma cell are vulnerable if hit over and over with alternating electric fields.

This constant battering causes the cell’s growth process, known as mitosis, to go haywire. And when cells don’t operate as intended, be they normal or cancerous, they know to die, and we get apoptosis.

Formally, the clinical trial is of the open-label, single-arm variety. It will test TTFields therapy in concert with chemotherapy consisting of pemetrexed and either cisplatin or carboplatin, Novocure has announced.

To be eligible for enrollment, a candidate patient must have newly diagnosed, unresectable malignant mesothelioma, according to Novocure.

The 80 patients who will eventually fill out the ranks of this Phase II trial are mesothelioma victims from Germany, Poland and Italy. The first to be enrolled is a mesothelioma patient at Humanitas Hospital in Bergamo, Italy.

TTFields Is a Novel Mesothelioma Therapy

The clinical trial follows on the heels of “positive results treating preclinical models of mesothelioma with TTFields,” said Novocure vice president Uri Weinberg, M.D., Ph.D.

“A pilot study in non-small-cell lung cancer has already demonstrated high tolerability and safety of TTFields applied to the thoracic region,” he added.

Giovanni Luca Ceresoli, M.D., director of the Thoracic and Genito-Urinary Oncology Unit at Humanitas Hospital, said the testing of TTFields is causing quite a stir among mesothelioma fighters.

He said that’s because conventional cancer treatments seem to offer patients such a poor prognosis. So when a promising novel therapy like TTFields enters the picture, it inevitably raises hope.

“We believe TTFields could be an ideal treatment for the locally-spreading mesothelioma tumor,” Ceresoli said.

Novocure is a private, commercial-stage oncology research-and-development enterprise headquartered on the British island of Jersey.

It also has R&D facilities in New York City; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Switzerland; Japan; and Israel.

Novocure CEO Asaf Danziger said this clinical trial demonstrates yet again his pioneering company’s commitment to seeing TTFields become an accepted and approved therapy for mesothelioma patients.