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Some $US130 billion was spent on cancer medicines last year — up 26 per cent since 2013 — and a squadron of ASX biotechs are working on treatments.

About 8.8 million lives are lost to various cancers each year at an economic cost of more than $US1.1 trillion, estimates the World Health Organisation.

The most common cancers — and key focus areas for researchers — are lung (1.7 million deaths), liver (788,000), colorectal (774,000),  stomach (754,000) and breast (571,000).

More than 35 ASX-listed biotechs have cancer-treating projects front and centre of their activities.

>> Scroll down for a table of ASX cancer-focused biotechs

On the local bourse, cancer fighters can be divided into three main categories: companies developing drugs to fight tumours and symptoms, those developing cutting edge diagnostic tests, and those seeking the ultimate prevention through projects working on cancer vaccines.

When it comes to predicting which of the ASX’s cancer-fighters will make breakthroughs, there can be surprises such as Bard1 Life Sciences (ASX:BD1) which doubled in price earlier this year after positive results — but wasn’t on Biotech Daily’s index of top biotech stocks at the start of the year.

Bard1, which focuses on developing novel non-invasive tests for cancers based on biomarkers, increased its market cap by more than 300 per cent in the last financial year. Its share price is up 66 per cent to 1.5c, compared with 12 months ago.

Of the 36 biotech companies in our table below, 19 are ahead over the past 12 months. Star performer Invion (ASX:IVX) is up 1750 per cent for the year to 3.7c.

Its share price went as high as 4.9c last week when the company gave an update on tests for its Photosoft cancer treatment, which is designed to destroy ovarian cancer cells.

Speaking to Stockhead about that news last week, chief executive Greg Collier said oncology — the study of tumours — was now Invion’s “total focus”.

He pointed to a research and development partnership with the Cho Group, which means the company doesn’t need to raise capital to continue with its drug development process. The company is next looking at animal studies as part of further ovarian cancer treatment tests.

Meanwhile, some of those rounding out the rest of the top five gainers are also well into the double digits for the year. These include:

Patrys (ASX:PAB): Patrys’s PAT‐DX1 is being tested to target and kill tumour cells in range of cancers, including brain cancerThe share price is up 820 per cent over the past year, sitting at 4.6c on Tuesday. At the end of the March quarter, it had $2.8 million in the bank to continue research operations, having raised $2.4 million in an oversubscribed rights issue in February.

Oncosil Medical (ASX:OSL): Oncosil is developing treatments for pancreatic and liver cancer and is ahead 120 per cent for the year, sitting at 22c on Tuesday. It also raised cash earlier this year, netting $12.7 million from an institutional placement. Its currently conducting two patient studies for its implantable radiotherapy device.

• Imugene (ASX:IMU): Imugene launched a $20 million capital raise last month to expand its US and EU clinical programs for another three years. The biotech is developing cancer fighting vaccines, including the HER-Vaxx for fighting breast and gastric cancers.

The share price was up 108 per cent for the year as of Tuesday, sitting at 2.7c when the market closed.

• Sirtex Medical (SRX): It’s by no means a small cap, but liver cancer fighter Sirtex is still a leading share price gainer, up 97 per cent over the past 12 months to $31.76.

The median return for the 36 stocks below is 16.6 per cent over the past year. By comparison, the broader ASX200 is up 10.3% over the same period.

Here’s a table of ASX cancer-focused biotechs.

Scroll or swipe to reveal full table. Click headings to sort

ASX Code CompanyFocus12-month price changePrice Jun 10 (intraday)Market Cap
AJJ Asian American Medical Group Oncology division focuses on treatment plans and a liver cancer clinic-0.12510.5c35.4M
BD1 BARD1 Life SciencesLung and ovarian cancer detection tests, vaccine0.661.5c 9M
BIT BiotronTreatments for Hep B, which can lead to cancers0.1662.1c 10.5M
BLTBenitec PharmaHead and neck cancer treatment0.7925c93.8M
CDYCellmid Oncology drug development and biomarker detection-0.1343.5c24.7M
CGS Cogstate Clinical trial design-0.2282.5c88M
CYCCyclopharm Cancer imaging tech0.1899.5c68.2M
CYPCynata Therapeutics Stem cell therapies1.291.3125M
GBIGenera BiosystemsHPV test - cervical cancer prevention0.2316c17.2M
GTG Genetic TechnologiesBreast cancer risk tes0.3751.1c24.3M
IDT IDT Australia Brain tumour drug-0.1248.5c20.8M
IMCImmuronCancer drugs development and reducing tumour size and side effects of chemotherapy.0.09833.5c48.5M
IMMImmutepImmunotherapy treatments fro cancer0.1663.5c81.6M
IMUImugene Vaccine development for gastric and breast cancer1.0772.7c85.2M
ITDITL Health Group Diagnostic testing-0.60520.5c17M
IVQInvotrocue Ltd Screening tests development0.510.5c51M
IVX Invion "Photosoft" laser cancer treatment17.53.7c197.7M
KZA Kazia Therapeutics Developing Cantrixil drug candidate - ovarian cancer0.05845.5c22.75M
LSH Lifespot Health Self-diagnosis skin cancer app-0.27212c5.7M
MDC Medlab ClinicalMedical cannabis cancer treatment-0.32554c111M
NOX Noxopharm Developing cancer-fighting drug Idronoxil-0.2960c45M
OSLOncosil Medical Device for use in pancreatic cancer treatments120%22c146.7M
PAA Pharmaust Cancer treatment for animals with a view to expand into human cancer treatment-0.4024c8M
PAB Patrys Antibody treatments8.24.6c49.3M
PTX Prescient Therapeutics Drug candidates for destroying tumours0.7969.7c20.5M
PXS Pharmaxis Cancers with fibrotic components0.23531.5c100.7M
RAC Race Oncology Developing the Bisantrene cancer drug-0.20819c9.2M
RGS Regeneus Cellular therapies0.23716c29.2M
RHY Rhythm BiosciencesColorectal cancer test-0.3720.5c10.5M
SDX Sienna Cancer diagnostics Biomarker diagnostics / cancer testing-0.6365.1c10.1M
SPL Starpharma HoldingsDendrimer tech and cancer drug development-0.0681.16420.6M
SRXSirtex Medical Liver cancer treatment0.96931.71.8B
TBLTBG Diagnostics In vitro disgnostic testing-0.5666.5c14M
TLX Telix PharmaceuticalsTreatments for brain, kidney and prostate cancer-0.14466c85.8M
VHT Volpara Breast cancer detection testing0.57776.5c136M
ZLDZelda Therapeutics Pre-clinical trials for cannabis breast, brain and pancreatic cancer0.278.9c47.6M