Novocure brings Optune tech to drug trial for glioblastoma


Novocure (NSDQ:NVCR) said today that it joined a Phase Ib study to evaluate the safety of Celgene‘s (NSDQ:CELG) marizomib and temozolomide in combination with Optune for patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

The trial is the first to assess Optune, the company’s “Tumor Treating Fields” delivery device, in combination with an investigational drug.

Celgene and Triphase changed their ongoing Phase Ib study of marizomib in combination with temozolomide and radiotherapy to include Optune. A group of 12 gliobastoma patients will be treated with the combination therapy following initial treatment with radiation and temozolomide, according to St. Helier, N.J.-based Novocure.

The primary endpoint for the study’s Optune branch is to evaluate the safety of the combination treatment with the addition of Optune. Secondary endpoints include preliminary clinical activity of the combo, Novocure said, including progression-free survival and overall survival.

The Optune arm is slated to open in the third quarter of this year.

The FDA-approved Optune device delivers low-intensity, intermediate frequency, alternating electric fields to inhibit cancer cell replication.

“This collaboration marks an important first step toward testing Optune with a promising new investigational compound for the treatment of GBM,” principal investigator Dr. Roger Stupp, associate director for strategic initiatives at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, said in prepared remarks. “Optune is the first treatment in over a decade to improve survival in GBM. I believe that combining Optune with new pharmacologic treatments in clinical trials, like this Phase Ib study, will help advance our understanding of how to treat this devastating disease.”

“We believe TTFields has the potential to be an excellent development candidate in combination with other solid tumor cancer treatments,” chief science officer & head of R&D, Eilon Kirson, added. “As innovators in cancer treatment, we know collaboration is essential to improve patient outcomes. We hope this is the first collaboration of many.”

Healthcare payment analysts Cotiviti Holdings acquires RowdMap in $70M deal

Give and take concept on black background

Doug Williams, Cotiviti CEO, noted in a news release that the need for its services has increased in line with the shift toward value-based care and the more complex payment system that accompanies it. RowdMap will help the companies expand and deepen their product offerings to their customer base.

“With the addition of RowdMap, we will be able to offer adjacent solutions to payment accuracy that together target over $600 billion of the estimated $900+ billion in waste and abuse in healthcare expenditures,” Williams said.

RowdMap uses publicly available healthcare data to create risk benchmarks for physicians, health plans, and hospital systems to help them identify and quantify no-value and low-value care. As a result, payers can reduce their medical costs by 30 percent and hospitals. The startup has expanded rapidly in the past couple of years from having a presence in 10 states two years ago to 49 states in 2017. It also added Geisinger Health System as a customer earlier this year.

In an interview earlier this year, RowdMap Cofounder and Chief Science Joshua Rosenthal highlighted the benefit of its approach.

“You can have a great clinical outcome on surgery you don’t need. You can even have a low cost and a great patient experience on that surgery,” he said. “But we take a broader view of quality. Whether you need something or not actually trumps whether you have a good outcome.”

Both companies are all about providing analytics software support to make risk bearing, value-based care workable because it relies so much on data analytics.

Cotiviti is a public company based in Atlanta that provides its services to 20 of the largest payers in the U.S. and eight of the top ten retailers, according to a news release. Earlier this year Rosenthal said RowdMap planned to focus more on helping payers compensate providers on the basis of high-value care metrics.

“We believe we are well positioned to help RowdMap achieve its full potential by leveraging our broad data set and established client relationships,” Williams said. “In addition, the RowdMap technology platform and analytics are highly complementary with Cotiviti’s, creating an opportunity for our teams to collaborate and share mutual insights to enhance existing solutions and develop a new set of innovative solutions.”

Photo: crazydiva, Getty Images


Forget antimicrobials, Evelo just raised $50M for its pro-microbial approach


The latest installment, announced Tuesday, came as a $50 million Series B courtesy of its founding and principal investor, Flagship Pioneering. GV (formerly Google Ventures), Celgene, Mayo Clinic, and Alexandria Venture Investments also chipped in.

Evelo’s platform is based on what it calls monoclonal microbials. These are single strains of naturally occurring microbes that selectively target human gut cells. That supposedly initiates specific immunological pathways, which can modulate aspects of inflammation, neurodegeneration, and even cancer.

“Humans have evolved over millennia with the microbes in and on our bodies and these microbes play a vital role in developing and directing immune and biological responses,” Evelo CEO Simba Gill explained via email.

Using microbials as a drug is an interesting deviation from the standard small molecule or antibody-based approach. By isolating naturally-occurring strains, Gill said the company is looking to improve the speed, cost, and success of drug discovery and development. They can be taken orally and he’s also anticipating fewer off-target effects.

“One of the key advantages of monoclonal microbials is that we are not seeing systemic exposure of the microbe, and therefore do not expect to see side effects driven by off target systemic exposure,” Gill noted.

With the new funding in hand, Evelo hopes to advance multiple product candidates into human trials in 2018. In the crosshairs right now are cancers and so-called immuno-inflammatory diseases — a category that includes psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and food allergies.

“Based on the data we have generated, our monoclonal microbials have the potential to really move the needle for all of the disease areas listed,” he said.

Resources will also be committed to improving the foundational platform.

While it’s all new terrain, Flagship does have some related experience. Its VentureLabs incubator gave birth to what is arguably the most advanced microbiome-based drug company, Seres Therapeutics. It underwent a successful IPO and recently initiated the field’s first pivotal trial.

VentureLabs also seeded Epiva Biosciences, which joined forces with Evelo in 2016. It had become apparent that both companies were working on the same problem from different angles. Evelo was working to create cancer therapies and studied immune responses to tumors, while Epiva explored treatments for allergy, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

The two firms consolidated into one location in Cambridge, Massachusetts location, with Evelo’s Gill taking the helm.

“The rationale for combining the two companies was positive growth,” Gill told MedCity News at the time. “It was driven by the recognition that fundamentally the biological platform for both companies was a mirror image. We both independently uncovered the biology of the immune-microbiome.”

Let’s see how much of a punch the two-for-one pro-microbial company can now deliver.


Picture: Andrew Brookes, Getty Images

Baidu’s Apollo platform becomes the ‘Android of the autonomous driving industry’

Baidu now claims one of the largest partner ecosystems for an autonomous driving platform in the world: Its Apollo autonomous driving program now counts over 50 partners, including FAW Group, one of the major Chinese carmakers that will work with Baidu on commercialization of the tech. Other partners include Chinese auto companies Chery, Changan and Great Wall Motors, as well as Bosch, Continental, Nvidia, Microsoft Cloud, Velodyne, TomTom, UCAR and Grab Taxi.

The Apollo program (if that name seems familiar, it’s because it’s actually named after the U.S. mission to the moon) also includes five of China’s top universities, and local government tie-ups as well. Baidu’s COO Qi Lu called the platform the “Android of the autonomous driving industry, but more open and powerful,” and it aims to provide developers with tools including data, APIs, open source code for some portions and even reference hardware to help them bring autonomous driving products to market.

To demonstrate what the platform can do, U.S. autonomous system supplier startup AutonomouStuff showed off two cars they turned into self-driving models using Apollo’s 1.0 software release in just three days. These cars ran circuits at a track near Baidu’s AI developer conference, which is where the Apollo program news was announced.

The goal is to open up Apollo’s abilities to developers gradually over time, and this month, developers will get access to driving technologies for specific, restricted areas. By the end of 2020, Baidu hopes to offer a platform that can handle full autonomous driving on both urban roads and highways.

In the autonomous driving industry there have been a lot of partnership announcements, amounting to a sort of ‘musical chairs’ with many players seeking to team up on various aspects of the challenge. In that context, Baidu may have just sat down in all the chairs at once. These partnerships tend to be open, as players hedge their bets and prepare for multiple leaders to emerge in the space, but Baidu’s open approach with the resulting product is interesting and different.

Baidu, as an Internet company with business similar to Google’s, seems to believe that the data and services business resulting from use of its platform will be worth making it more broadly available (the Android model). It’s an interesting approach, and one that could prove a winning strategy, especially in the potentially massive Chinese market.