The health sector was the most successful sector on the ASX in 2019. Various small caps made several breakthroughs including with nerve damage and macular degeneration.

While cancer remains one fish that has yet to be fried there are small caps on the ASX seeking to do just that.

In this two-part series, Stockhead reviews the ASX small caps waging a war on cancer and hoping for a breakthrough.

This first part focuses on companies making anti-cancer drugs, while the second instalment will cover the stocks working to improve diagnostics.

These companies have had varying fortunes in the last 12 months.

The ultimate goal of commercialising a drug is easier said than done because of the various stages of clinical trials required (in mice and humans), as well as the regulatory hurdles that need to be jumped.

And these are the companies in the race to the finish.

Code Name Price 1 Year % Return Market Cap
RAC RACE ONCOLOGY LTD 0.26 213 $28.4M
TLX TELIX PHARMACEUTICALS LTD 1.54 108 $390.1M
KZA KAZIA THERAPEUTICS LTD 0.62 80 $44.7M
IMU IMUGENE LTD 0.034 70 $150.5M
IDT IDT AUSTRALIA LTD 0.15 3 $35.5M
OSL ONCOSIL MEDICAL LTD 0.175 0 $110.4M
CYP CYNATA THERAPEUTICS LTD 1.2 -8 $123.6M
IMM IMMUTEP LTD 0.29 -9 $113.6M
PTX PRESCIENT THERAPEUTICS LTD 0.058 -19 $22.9M
IVX INVION LTD 0.013 -24 $71.5M
PAB PATRYS LTD 0.02 -26 $21.5M
NOX NOXOPHARM LTD 0.26 -35 $34.4M
BNO BIONOMICS LTD 0.081 -35 $44.1M
ATX AMPLIA THERAPEUTICS LTD 0.08 -43 $4.3M
IMC IMMURON LTD 0.135 -49 $23.9M
SUD SUDA PHARMACEUTICALS LTD 0.057 -60 $8.1M
BLT BENITEC BIOPHARMA LTD 0.039 -63 $12.9M

 

Fortune favours the advanced

The best performer is Perth-based Race Oncology (ASX:RAC) which is looking to commercialise the orphan drug Bisantrene which fights a rare cancer called myelogenous leukemia.

CEO Peter Molloy told Stockhead last year Bisantrene had been shown to work in clinical trials back in the 1980s but big pharma mergers left it discarded because it was not a big enough opportunity.

Just days after we spoke with him, the stock began its red hot run triggered by a well known biotech investor buying in.

Second is Telix Pharmaceuticals (ASX:TLX) which is the closest to bringing its drug to market being already in phase three trials. While its main focus is Rett syndrome, a rare genetic brain disorder, it is also undertaking a trial in renal cancer.

Kazia Therapeutics (ASX:KZA) is targeting difficult to treat glioblastoma, which is the most common and aggressive brain cancer. While its phase two study is ongoing, interim data in November showed positive results and the company’s share price is 80 per cent higher than a year ago.

Imugene’s (ASX:IMU) goal is to fight cancer via the immune system. Its therapies have passed pre-clinical tests and the company is currently undertaking phase one clinical trials.

 

The impact of regulators

The share price performance of OncoSil (ASX:OSL) shows that regulatory hurdles can have an impact.

The OncoSil product is a targeted radioactive phosphorous isotope implanted directly into a patient’s pancreatic tumour via an endoscopic ultrasound.

In March last year, the company’s application for CE Mark certification from the British Standards Institute (BSI) was rejected and shares plummeted.

But in recent months the BSI has given signs that OncoSil is now heading in the right direction noting it had closed out the concerns behind the earlier rejection.

Cancer is just one of many diseases Cynata Therapeutics’ (ASX:CYP) stem cell therapy is targeting.

While the possibility of having a big player on board to sell a company’s product can do wonders for its share price, any hiccups in locking in a partnership can also send a company’s share price south.

In 2017, Cynata did a deal with Fujifilm that would eventually lead the Japanese multinational to securing an exclusive worldwide license to sell Cynata’s lead stem cell platform. When the deadline came, Fujifilm opted to extend the deadline by six months – sending shareholders into a panic.

However, six months later the licensing deal went ahead.

Immutep (ASX:IMM) has had struggles for longer, but recent months have seen positive clinical data as well as a cash injection from British pharma giant GSK.

Prescient Therapeutics (ASX:PTX) is targeting several cancers, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Its therapies are designed to block growth signals found in cancer cells.

The most recent news out of the company was strong interim data from its phase two trial in breast cancer sufferers — the overall response rate was 91 per cent.

 

Still looking at mice

Medical treatments such as anti-cancer drugs typically start out being tested in mice. The hope is that they’ll also work in humans but that’s not always how it plays out.

Invion (ASX:IVX) spent much of 2019 testing its laser drug on ovarian cancer in mice and while shareholders got excited at the time, the excitement gradually wore off as the year progressed, with the share price more than halving between May and November.

Patrys (ASX:PAB) is developing a treatment for brain cancer. Again, it has seen solid results in mice but it remains to be seen if it will translate into humans.

Amplia Therapeutics (ASX:ATX) spent the first half of 2019 (and some years before) testing its anti-cancer drug in mice, and after success in July is looking to initiate human studies this year.

 

Read More:
The health sector has been the ASX’s top performer in 2019 but could a recession stop it in it’s tracks?
These are the 22 small cap biotechs closest to bringing a drug to market