• Early detection and effective treatment can lead to remission or cure for many cancers
  • Optiscan’s tech brings surgeons and pathologists together to better diagnose, treat and monitor cancer
  • Race Oncology’s working to minimise cardiovascular damage linked to almost all cancer therapies

Cancer is the leading cause of death globally, accounting for nearly one in six deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

A study published by the European Society for Medical Oncology has shown the incidence of cancers and resultant mortality are increasing worldwide.

Furthermore, the study showed between 2020 and 2050, cancer will cost the world economy $25.2 trillion in international dollars – equivalent to an annual tax of 0.55% on global gross domestic product (GDP).

However, while the economic burden of the disease is forecast to rise, early detection and effective treatment can result in the successful remission or cure of many cancers.

The American Association for Cancer Research says in the US overall cancer death rate has been steadily declining since the 1990s, with reductions between 1991 and 2020 translating into more than 3.8 million cancer deaths avoided.

“Research is the backbone of progress against cancer because it is the driving force behind every breakthrough that enhances survival and quality of life and every new policy or program designed to improve public health,” the association says.

From August 1, 2022, to July 31, 2023, the association says the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 14 new anticancer therapeutics and two new imaging agents, while also expanding the use of 12 previously approved anticancer therapeutics to treat additional cancer types.

On the ASX there are several companies looking to advance cancer research and treatment. Here’s some we’ve noticed.


Optiscan (ASX:OIL)

OIL’s unique patented technology brings together surgeons and pathologists to better diagnose, treat and monitor patients with cancer.

The biotech is a global leader in the development, manufacturing, and commercialisation of real-time live, confocal endomicroscopic imaging devices for early diagnosis, surgical management, and non invasive long term monitoring of cancer and other chronic diseases.

CEO and managing director Dr Camile Farah told Stockhead OIL is particularly focussed on using miniaturised endomicroscopes for cancer surgery to give surgeons power to assess accuracy of cancer removal in real-time while the patient is still on the operating table instead of waiting days or weeks for a final decision by a pathologist.

OIL’s expanding portfolio of devices includes one for oral cancer imaging, a new surgical device that will focus on breast cancer surgery in the first instance, and a second generation flexible endomicroscope for gastrointestinal (GI) imaging.

The company is also building its own cloud-based telepathology platform to facilitate communication between surgeons and pathologists during surgery, and disease-specific artificial intelligence (AI) software to help surgeons make immediate informed decisions.

“Under the hood, the company has created a pen-sized digital microscope with hundreds of specially miniaturised components that enable realtime microscopic imaging anywhere in the body on any tissue our probe contacts to produce high resolution digital pathology images at the single-cell level for cancer diagnosis and surgical margin detection,” Farah says.

“This is a level of precision surgeons have never had available to them during surgery, and is a true game changer for patient outcomes.”

OIL continues to innovate and invest in research and development and has been awarded a $3 million CRC-P grant by the Federal Government to work on their second-generation Edge-AI-enabled gastrointestinal (GI) endomicroscope.

Farah says the endomicroscope incorporates even further miniaturised optics with advanced electronics and software that will allow clinicians to get into the tightest of spots anywhere in the body and which will open up applications in laparoscopic and robotic surgery for even more cancer types.

“We’re absolutely focussed on changing the surgical workflow with the use of our live digital pathology platform to improve outcomes for all cancer sufferers,”  he says.


Race Oncology (ASX:RAC)

The pharmaceutical development company is focused on reformulating and bringing to market anti-cancer drug bisantrene.

The unique small molecule, anthracene-based chemotherapeutic has anti-cancer benefits but additionally reduced cardiotoxicity, meaning it is less likely to cause heart dysfunction associated with almost all cancer therapies.

CEO Daniel Tillett told Stockhead Bisantrene has a long history of treating cancer patients and has been used in more than 50 clinical trials and over 1,500 patients.

Bisantrene was originally developed by small French pharmaceutical firm called Lederle Laboratories in the 1970s and 1980s for the treatment of a wide range of cancers, but with less dangerous side effects on the heart compared to existing chemotherapies.

While it was very effective in patients and was even approved for the treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in France, it was not commercialised due to the drug being difficult to use.

RAC has now reformulated bisantrene so that it can be easily used in the clinic through standard infusion via an arm or leg vein.

In addition, the company has undertaken new scientific research to identify which cancers the drug is best suited to treat.

RAC recently released positive interim clinical results from an ongoing investigator-initiated Phase 2 study of bisantrene in combination with fludarabine and clofarabine in relapsed or refractory Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (R/R AML) patients.

“Race is about to undertake new clinical trials of the reformulated version of bisantrene (RC220), which are designed to show that in combination with common chemotherapy drugs, we can better treat the patient’s cancer while protecting their heart from the serious and permanent damage that chemotherapy drugs often cause,” Tillett says.

Tillett says while  new cancers treatments like immunotherapy and targeted drugs are very promising, standard chemotherapy treatments are and will remain the mainstay of cancer treatment for most cancer patients.

“Unfortunately, chemotherapy comes with many serious side effects with the most worrying being permanent damage to the heart,” he says.

“There is an urgent need to make chemotherapy both more effective and safer for cancer patients.”

He says millions of cancer patients are treated every year with chemotherapy so any drug that can improve treatment and protect the heart from damage has a very large existing market.

“Conservative primary market research conducted by Triangle Insights suggests annual sales of bisantrene could reach to more than US$5 billion per year,” he says.


Clarity Pharmaceuticals (ASX:CU6)

Clinical stage radiopharmaceutical company CU6 is developing next-generation theranostic (therapy and imaging) products, based on its platform SAR Technology.

CU6 this month announced initial data from its Phase I/II trial, called COBRA, confirmed that its copper-based imaging agent I64Cu-SAR-bisPSMA is safe and highly effective in detecting prostate cancer (PC) lesions in patients with biochemical recurrence (BCR).

BCR means the cancer has returned after previously being treated.  64Cu- SAR-bisPSMAt contains copper-64 (64Cu), and is used to visualise prostate lesions using a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner.

The trial is studying PC lesions in patients with BCR where standard of care imaging was unable to detect any lesions.

Initial data suggests that, when 64Cu-SAR-bisPSMA is used, up to 60% had lesions identified by same-day 64Cu-SAR-bisPSMA imaging, and up to 80% on next-day imaging, with high specificity on both days.

The next day imaging increases detections from a median number of 80 lesions on Day 0, to up to 153 lesions on Day 1. Investigators of the trial indicated that they would change the treatment plan for ~48% of patients to use 64Cu-SAR-bisPSMA.

Executive chair Dr Alan Taylor told Stockhead even though the diagnostic data from the trial has been amazing, CU6’s goal is to better treat children and adults with cancer.

“In this context of prostate cancer we showed last year that utilising the same product but this time CU67 as the isotope we were able to make tumours disappear in a patient that had been treated twice with our product,” he says.

“The patient achieved a great initial result after a single dose in our SECuRE Phase II trial and then after an additional dose under the expanded access program of the US FDA the tumour was no longer detectable with PSA blood tests or  PSMA PET imaging.”

Also in CU6’s product development pipeline is SARTATE for neuroblastoma, which is one of the most aggressive childhood cancers.

67Cu SARTATE and 64Cu SARTATE have been granted FDA Orphan Drug Designation (ODD) status for the treatment and clinical management of neuroblastoma, with a Phase 1/II dose escalation and expansion trial underway in the US.

“The trial is progressing and we are at the highest dose cohort in the dose escalation phase of the trial,” Taylor says.

CU6 is also developing SAR-Bombesin as a theranostic for breast cancer and prostate cancer with Phase I/II trials currently underway.

“The SAR-bisPSMA has become the standout of our portfolio based on the trial results to date and the unmet need for better prostate cancer imaging and therapies,” Taylor says.


The OIL, RAC, CU6 & share price today:



At Stockhead we tell it like it is. While Optiscan and Race Oncology are Stockhead advertisers, they did not sponsor this article.