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This brain cancer drug stock has been on a tear

This year, more than 14,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the same kind of brain cancer that killed Senator John McCain, glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM. 

The National Cancer Institute estimates that so far this year 23,880 people were diagnosed with a brain or other nervous system cancer and that 16,830 people died from those cancers.

This week, Yahoo Finance spoke to the executive chairman of Novocure, which makes a medical device called the Optune that’s designed to treat GBM. A device that attaches to patients’ heads, the Optune uses low-intensity electric fields, or tumor-treating fields, to slow or stop GBM cancer cells from dividing and to kill affected cancer cells.

“What we’re doing at Novocure, we’re targeting the electrical properties of cells and their proteins rather than their chemical properties,” said William Doyle, Novocure executive chairman. “We affect a very basic mechanism of cell division.”

Tumor-treating fields don’t enter the bloodstream like a drug, so they don’t cause many of the side effects of chemotherapy, the company points out. The medical device showed a five-year survival advantage, the company says — patients had 2.5 times greater survival rate at five years with Optune plus chemotherapy compared to chemotherapy alone. (It’s worth noting that this data is based on studies that were conducted, in part, by Novocure. Even with the advantage of Optune, the five-year survival rate was only 13% versus 5% without the Novocure.)

Novocure’s stock price has soared 120% in the last year alone and reached a 52-week high this week. The company currently has phase III trials underway for the treatments of brain metastases from non-small cell lung cancer, primary non-small cell lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

“Based on our phase II data, we think that we have great promise in treating pancreatic cancer,” Doyle said. The company is also about to start a phase III trial in ovarian cancer, and it’s expecting to get FDA approval to treat mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

Doyle says he is very optimistic for approval to treat more types of cancers because the treatment uses the same mechanism of Optune, which was already approved by the FDA.

“With Novocure, each one of these new indications is based on the same mechanism of actions as our GBM data,” said Doyle. “So if you think that GBM is among the most difficult cancers, in fact the last 26 phase III drug trials have failed, Novocure has been the only successful trial, so I have a very good feeling.”

Maylan Studart is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.