A brief rundown of cancer trials: what are the biotechs up to?


From Avacta to Cizzle, the UK small cap market boasts dozens of cancer-fighting shares. Read more to understand what these companies are doing to improve cancer care.

As an avid analyst of high-risk, high-reward London-listed small cap shares, I tend to predominantly cover mining and biotech companies. This is to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy; the success of both types usually depends on a single flagship asset, whether a promising lithium mine or bleeding-edge scientific discovery.

And when it comes to biotechs, more often than not, I cover companies hoping to improve outcomes for cancer patients. This is hardly surprising – according to the NHS, one in two UK citizens will develop the disease over the course of their life – and together with cardiovascular disease, they account for the vast majority of mortal illnesses in OECDs.

Of course, cancer and CVD are umbrella terms for hundreds of different diseases, so this is hard to avoid. But whenever I cover the next cancer-focused biotech, I’m keenly aware of where it slots into the wider picture.

While this is only a brief overview, a rundown may be of use to readers looking for that wider perspective, and also as an example of why diversifying, even among one sector, is so important.

Cancer clinical trials: 5 key types

Clinical trials are research studies designed to evaluate new treatments, therapies, and interventions for various types of cancer. These trials aim to determine the safety and effectiveness of new approaches, and potentially improve patient outcomes.

The less savoury reason for clinical trials is financial; a successful new treatment can make a company billions in certain cases, save the healthcare system cash, and even improves global/state GDP as a survivor is not only costing money in hospital, but will also go back to work.

Broadly speaking, I break cancer-focused clinical trials down into the following five categories:

*Note: this is a very basic overview, investors should be careful to conduct their own research into this massive scientific field.

Prevention Trials

These types of trials focus on preventing an individual from developing cancer or reducing the risk of developing cancer. These often include vaccines, oral medications, or even lifestyle changes in individuals who have a high chance of getting the disease.

This is a really diverse area, but past trials that became current successes include the HPV vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer, pre-emptive mastectomies for women with certain genetic markers, and WHO guidance for carcinogens — e.g., cigarettes and bacon.

Screening Trials

These trials aim to detect cancer at an early stage before it metastasises or becomes hard to treat. Trials either target novel screening developments, or more commonly hope to improve on current techniques.

For example, men are encouraged to get their prostates checked for cancer from middle-age onwards, while women are commonly asked to come in for smear tests at their local GP.

Cizzle Biotech

Cizzle’s lung cancer detection tech is a decent example.

Diagnostic Trials

Diagnostic trials aim to develop new techniques or tools to detect cancer either earlier, or more accurately. Advances in this area improves health outcomes for patients and makes treating cancer much cheaper too.

For example, diagnostics includes blood testing, new imaging tech, or more recently molecular profiling.

Polarean Imaging’s Xenoview tech is an excellent example.

Palliative Trials

Palliative care trials are often overlooked — by both investors and the general public at large — as they focus on an area of cancer care that few people wish to think about. However, the reality is that many people die from cancer, and treatments that help with pain management and psychological support are extremely important.

At present, most of the available, actually effective, painkillers for this stage are addictive and psychologically harmful.

Treatment Trials

Treatment trials get the lion’s share of cash and investor attention — even though preventive and diagnostic are arguably more beneficial. Of course, there’s a reason for this — a universal cure for cancer, if such a thing is even possible — would have a similar effect on the world as Jenner’s smallpox vaccine.

Most will know that these types of trials are usually split into three distinct phases to assess safety, efficacy, and optimal dosage.

Avacta Logo

Splitting this down further, the types of trials I focus on are:

  • Chemotherapy Trials — exploring new drugs, drug combinations, or platforms to either improve efficacy or reduce side effects. Avacta is the best example, though AVA6000 is also a targeted therapy which is part of what makes it so attractive.
  • Targeted Therapy Trials — targeting certain abnormalities specific to cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy Trials — including CAR-T therapy, these trials aim to train the body’s own immune system to detect and destroy cancerous tumours. CAR-T modifies the patient’s own T-cells to express chimeric antigen receptors that recognize and target cancer cells. HemoGenyx’s CAR-T trial is a good example.[6]

Cancer trials summed up

There are of course many other types of treatment trials, but these are the areas perhaps the most likely to see a near-term breakthrough.

Further, a combination of new therapies could make cancer far more treatable in the future — one where a patient could be treated with AVA6000 for more effective chemo with no side effects, and then also treated with HEMO’s CART-T to train their own immune system to also attack their cancer.

Sadly, we’re not there yet. But this is what makes investing in cancer trial companies maybe different to other stocks; you’re not only hoping for a huge payday but helping to beat a disease which will likely touch us all at some point in our lives.

This article has been prepared for information purposes only by Charles Archer. It does not constitute advice, and no party accepts any liability for either accuracy or for investing decisions made using the information provided.

Further, it is not intended for distribution to, or use by, any person in any country or jurisdiction where such distribution or use would be contrary to local law or regulation.


Charles Archer is an experienced financial writer specialising in monetary law. With a background in stock market and private equity analysis, he’s worked for many years as a freelance investment au... Continued

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