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What to watch at the world's largest cancer research conference

ASCO, the world's largest cancer research conference, starts Friday in Chicago, where oncologists, investors and pharmaceutical executives converge to discuss the latest advancements in treatment.

Immunotherapies, medicines that enable the immune system to better fight cancer, will continue to be a top focus of the conference. Merck, Bristol-Myers, Roche, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and others are working in the space, which BMO Capital Markets analyst Alex Arfaei estimates may be worth $30 billion by 2020. The cost to treat cancer is sure also to be a major topic.

But it's the smaller companies that often see the biggest stock moves out of ASCO (which stands for the American Society of Clinical Oncology). Already the Nasdaq Biotech Index has rallied into the conference, gaining 6 percent in...