Repurposing of Anticancer Drugs for the Treatment of Bacterial Infections

Curr Top Med Chem. 2017;17(10):1157-1176. doi: 10.2174/1568026616666160930131737.


Despite the fact that bacterial infections are one of the leading causes of death worldwide and that mortality rates are increasing at alarming rates, no new antibiotics have been produced by the pharmaceutical industry in more than a decade. The situation is so dire that the World Health Organization warned that we may enter a "post-antibiotic era" within this century; accordingly, bacteria resistant against all known antibiotics are becoming common and already producing untreatable infections. Although several novel approaches to combat bacterial infections have been proposed, they have yet to be implemented in clinical practice. Hence, we propose that a more plausible and faster approach is the utilization of drugs originally developed for other purposes besides antimicrobial activity. Among these are some anticancer molecules proven effective in vitro for eliminating recalcitrant, multidrug tolerant bacteria; some of which also protect animals from infections and recently are undergoing clinical trials. In this review, we highlight the similarities between cancer cells/tumors and bacterial infections, and present evidence that supports the utilization of some anticancer drugs, including 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), gallium (Ga) compounds, and mitomycin C, as antibacterials. Each of these drugs has some promising properties such as broad activity (all three compounds), dual antibiotic and antivirulence properties (5-FU), efficacy against multidrug resistant strains (Ga), and the ability to kill metabolically dormant persister cells which cause chronic infections (mitomycin C).

Keywords: 5-fluorouracil; Antibiotics; Bacteria; Biofilms; Cancer cells; Gallium; Infections; Mitomycin C; Persisters; Virulence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Drug Repositioning*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Structure


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents