• Several ASX-listed biotechs working on a Holy Grail of medicine: a cure for cancer
  • Race Oncology shares on fire over the past year; company still only worth $127m
  • Patrys’ Yale-licensed drug “could change the world”

It’s an exciting time in the cancer-fighting biotech space – and an exciting time to be investing in the sector.

A number of ASX-listed oncology companies are performing strongly, with Race Oncology (ASX:RAC) shares up more than 16-fold in the past 16 months, going from 6c to 96c on positive clinical trials of its chemotherapy drug Bisantrene.

Shares in Patrys (ASX:PAB) have more than doubled since early September, going from 1c to 2.1c, which chief executive James Campbell says reflects recent multi-billion transactions in the antibody-drug conjugate space.

 

In September, Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) agreed to pay an eye-popping $US21 billion for Immunomedics (NASDAQ:IMMU), while Merck & Co (NYSE:MRK) committed $US4.2 billion to Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ:SGEN).

“The deals in the six months have been insane,” Campbell told Stockhead. “Where we are compared to a year ago, the number of deals is going through the roof.”

The Melbourne company’s research is much less far along than that Immunomedics or Seattle Genetics, as its tumour-fighting therapy still has not yet been tested in humans.

But Campbell said the Yale University-licensed drug is the first biologic drug that can cross the blood-brain barrier, binding to the nuclei of cancer cells and inhibiting what’s known as the DNA damage response (DDR) mechanism.

“It has a very unique way of killing cancer cells,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter what type of cancer is there.”

The people working at Patrys “have lots of other things to do, but we’re involved because we believe this could actually change the world,” he added.

Amplia Therapeutics aiming to amplify other anti-cancer drugs

Another Melbourne cancer-fighter is Amplia Therapeutics (ASX:ATX), whose shares were up 22 per cent yesterday to a more than one-year high of 27c following its announcement earlier this month that it had dosed the first healthy human volunteer in its Phase 1 trial of it Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) inhibitor drug AMP945.

Chief executive Dr John Lambert told Stockhead that AMP945 was a possible treatment for pancreatic cancer, among other things, because it could actually penetrate the scar tissue that normally protects the tumours.

In non-technical terms, the FAK inhibitor “kind of lowers the defensive shield” of cancer tumours, “amplifying” the effects of treatments that harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, a field known as immuno-oncology.

“There’s not a lot of treatment options available for pancreatic cancer,” Lambert said.

It’s a particularly nasty cancer, with a median survival rate of just eight months and only 10 per cent of patients surviving for five years.

A Phase 2 trial of the drug could begin in the second half of next year, assuming the Phase 1 study goes well.

“If what we hope for this molecule actually pays off in the clinics, it’ll be incredibly satisfying and gratifying for everyone involved,” Lambert said.

ASX code name Focus Price YTD performance Performance since Aug 30 Market cap
PAB Patrys Novel anti-cancer antibody therapeutics 2.1c 0.05 0.75 $31.6m
IMM Immutep LAG-3 immunotherapy drugs 25.5c -0.02 0.31 $120m
RAC Race Oncology Bisantrene, a "lost" cancer drug 95.5c 3.89 0.22 $127m
KZA Kazia Therapeutics glioblastoma 25c 0.39 -0.22 $91m
PTX Prescient Therapeutics PTX-100 6.4c 0.03 -0.066 $42m
IMU Imugene HER-Vaxx cancer vaccine 5.8c 0.900000000000000 0.096 $247m
BD1 Bard1 Life Sciences Biomarker platform 2.5c -0.28 -0.12 $60m
NOX Noxopharm Prostate cancer 45.5c 0.857 0.44 $94m
ASX code name Focus Price YTD performance Performance since Aug 30 Market cap