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 Company Focus 12-month price change Price Jun 10 (intraday) Market Cap
AJJ Asian American Medical Group Oncology division focuses on treatment plans and a liver cancer clinic -0.125 10.5c 35.4M
BD1 BARD1 Life Sciences Lung and ovarian cancer detection tests, vaccine 0.66 1.5c 9M
BIT Biotron Treatments for Hep B, which can lead to cancers 0.166 2.1c 10.5M
BLT Benitec Pharma Head and neck cancer treatment 0.79 25c 93.8M
CDY Cellmid Oncology drug development and biomarker detection -0.13 43.5c 24.7M
CGS Cogstate Clinical trial design -0.22 82.5c 88M
CYC Cyclopharm Cancer imaging tech 0.18 99.5c 68.2M
CYP Cynata Therapeutics Stem cell therapies 1.29 1.3 125M
GBI Genera Biosystems HPV test - cervical cancer prevention 0.23 16c 17.2M
GTG Genetic Technologies Breast cancer risk tes 0.375 1.1c 24.3M
IDT IDT Australia Brain tumour drug -0.124 8.5c 20.8M
IMC Immuron Cancer drugs development and reducing tumour size and side effects of chemotherapy. 0.098 33.5c 48.5M
IMM Immutep Immunotherapy treatments fro cancer 0.166 3.5c 81.6M
IMU Imugene Vaccine development for gastric and breast cancer 1.077 2.7c 85.2M
ITD ITL Health Group Diagnostic testing -0.605 20.5c 17M
IVQ Invotrocue Ltd Screening tests development 0.5 10.5c 51M
IVX Invion "Photosoft" laser cancer treatment 17.5 3.7c 197.7M
KZA Kazia Therapeutics Developing Cantrixil drug candidate - ovarian cancer 0.058 45.5c 22.75M
LSH Lifespot Health Self-diagnosis skin cancer app -0.272 12c 5.7M
MDC Medlab Clinical Medical cannabis cancer treatment -0.325 54c 111M
NOX Noxopharm Developing cancer-fighting drug Idronoxil -0.29 60c 45M
OSL Oncosil Medical Device for use in pancreatic cancer treatments 120% 22c 146.7M
PAA Pharmaust Cancer treatment for animals with a view to expand into human cancer treatment -0.402 4c 8M
PAB Patrys Antibody treatments 8.2 4.6c 49.3M
PTX Prescient Therapeutics Drug candidates for destroying tumours 0.796 9.7c 20.5M
PXS Pharmaxis Cancers with fibrotic components 0.235 31.5c 100.7M
RAC Race Oncology Developing the Bisantrene cancer drug -0.208 19c 9.2M
RGS Regeneus Cellular therapies 0.237 16c 29.2M
RHY Rhythm Biosciences Colorectal cancer test -0.37 20.5c 10.5M
SDX Sienna Cancer diagnostics Biomarker diagnostics / cancer testing -0.636 5.1c 10.1M
SPL Starpharma Holdings Dendrimer tech and cancer drug development -0.068 1.16 420.6M
SRX Sirtex Medical Liver cancer treatment 0.969 31.7 1.8B
TBL TBG Diagnostics In vitro disgnostic testing -0.566 6.5c 14M
TLX Telix Pharmaceuticals Treatments for brain, kidney and prostate cancer -0.144 66c 85.8M
VHT Volpara Breast cancer detection testing 0.577 76.5c 136M
ZLD Zelda Therapeutics Pre-clinical trials for cannabis breast, brain and pancreatic cancer 0.27 8.9c 47.6M