Merck taps Novocure's cancer-fighting electric fields for new Keytruda combination study

Merck’s mainstay cancer fighter Keytruda is being evaluated in combination with dozens of different drugs, to find any headway against the disease. Now, the Big Pharma has signed up to test the PD-1 antibody alongside Novocure’s bioelectric treatment as well.

The two companies plan to launch a phase 2 study in advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, putting the drug-plus-device regimen forward as a potential first-line treatment.

Novocure’s Tumor Treating Fields apply specific frequencies of electricity designed to disrupt cell division within a tumor, slowing down the cancer’s growth and causing the cells to die, without applying heat or harming healthy cells.

“Multiple preclinical studies suggest that the use of Tumor Treating Fields together with anti-PD-1 therapy can potentially augment the immune response resulting in improved tumor control,” said Novocure’s executive chairman, William Doyle.

RELATED: Merck's Keytruda misses key mark in small cell lung cancer trial, dashing big expansion hopes

In May 2019, Novocure received an humanitarian device approval from the FDA for its use against mesothelioma—as an add-on to Eli Lilly’s combination treatment of Alimta and cisplatin chemotherapy—making it the first new treatment option for the lung disease in 15 years.

That approval was also the company’s first outside of brain cancer, following a 2011 green light in glioblastoma when given with temozolomide chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Currently, Novocure is also studying the use of its Tumor Treating Fields in liver, ovarian and pancreatic cancer, as well as in brain metastases.

The new pilot study with Merck aims to enroll about 66 NSCLC patients in the U.S. and launch before the end of this year, while tracking responses to the therapy combination and survival out to one year.