New hopes from old drugs: revisiting DNA-binding small molecules as anticancer agents

Future Oncol. 2009 Dec;5(10):1685-704. doi: 10.2217/fon.09.127.


Most of the anticancer chemotherapeutic drugs that are broadly and successfully used today are DNA-damaging agents. Targeting of DNA has been proven to cause relatively potent and selective destruction of tumor cells. However, the clinical potential of DNA-damaging agents is limited by the adverse side effects and increased risk of secondary cancers that are consequences of the agents' genotoxicity. In this review, we present evidence that those agents capable of targeting DNA without inducing DNA damage would not be limited in these ways, and may be as potent as DNA-damaging agents in the killing of tumor cells. We use as an example literature data and our own research of the well-known antimalarial drug quinacrine, which binds to DNA without inducing DNA damage, yet modulates a number of cellular pathways that impact tumor cell survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • DNA / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA