Respiratory diseases such as asthma, pneumonia and tuberculosis kill millions of people every year — and world health authorities consider them a critical health focus.

“Prevention, control and cure of these diseases and promotion of respiratory health must be a top priority in global decision-making in the health sector,” reported the Forum of International Respiratory Societies last year.

“The global impact of the five main respiratory diseases — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, respiratory infections, tuberculosis and lung cancer — is massive,” the forum says.

Some 65 million people suffer from COPD and 3 million die from it each year, making it the third leading cause of death worldwide.

More than 330 million suffer from asthma — it affects 14 per cent of all children globally.

Pneumonia, TB and lung cancer kill millions more every year.

Not surprisingly, ASX-listed biotechs focused on the area attract strong attention.

“Respiratory has traditionally been quite attractive because of the larger markets,” says Bell Potter healthcare analyst Tanu Jain.

“And it is always going to be popular because there are lifestyle issues as well as morbidity.”

>> Scroll down for a table of ASX-listed stocks in the respiratory space and their one-year performance

There are more than a dozen ASX stocks focused on the respiratory space — from trying to tackle asthma medication adherence, improving health outcomes for people with cystic fibrosis or even just trying to help you sleep better at night.

And aside from the health benefits, there’s a good financial benefit too.

A Stockhead review of 13 small cap respiratory stocks has found that the majority are up year-on-year — led by one company that had a stellar 2018 financial year.

Invion (ASX:IVX), which is testing a drug called INV104, is up a huge 1358 per cent over the past 12 months, going from 0.2c to 3.5c earlier today:

Invion shares (ASX:IVX) over the past year
Invion shares (ASX:IVX) over the past year

The drug works by blocking the actions of leukotrienes, preventing the increased mucus production, inflammation and narrowing of the airways that occurs in asthma.

Focus on differentiation

One trend in the respiratory space is an ongoing search for differentiation, says Bell Potter’s Tanu Jain.

“For example you have a number of companies who are trying to monitor usage and encourage people to use different devices as a better way of tracking their health,” she says.

Respiri (ASX:RSH) is one such company. They’ve made what they call the world’s first digital wheeze detection and measurement technology. It’s aimed at replacing outdated and difficult-to-use instruments for lung function testing.

It appears to have paid off for them over the past 12 months — the stock has risen 233 per cent to 9c compared to 2.7c a year ago.

Over on the drug development side Pharmaxis (ASX:PXS) and AdAlta (ASX:1AD) stand out.

Pharmaxis, up 21 per cent over 12 months, has two respiratory drugs on the market — Adriol, a lung function test to help diagnose asthma, and Bronchitol, an inhaled dry powder for the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

AdAlta’s flagship drug in development is AD-214, which is being developed for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrotic diseases. The company’s shares have risen 18 per cent over the past year, to 29.5c.

Health stocks tend to generate less enthusiasm among investors than themes like battery metals or tech due to their slow pace, high risk and jargon-filled ASX announcements.

But Ms Jain says “it’s a good time to be in the healthcare and biotech sector.

“I would say that you want to be a company that at least has a proof of concept, or has a legacy asset, is well-advanced in clinical trials or is targeting an indication with a high unmet need.”

Here’s a table of ASX-listed stocks in the respiratory space and their one-year performance:

Scroll or swipe to reveal table. Click headings to sort

ASX code Company 12-month price change Price Aug 21 (intraday) Market cap ($m)
IVX Invion 1358% 0.035 197.7
RSH Respiri 233% 0.090 41.2
PXS Pharmaxis 21% 0.320 102.5
PIQ Proteomics 20% 0.240 19.2
1AD AdAlta 18% 0.295 26.8
RNO Rhinomed 5% 0.220 25.9
CYC Cyclopharm 1% 0.890 61.7
ADR Adherium -7% 0.084 14.7
BIT Biotron -7% 0.016 8
UCM Uscom -11% 0.165 22.7
MVP Medical Developments -30% 3.600 213.1
RAP ResApp -68% 0.215 138.4