The therapeutic potential of iron-targeting gallium compounds in human disease: From basic research to clinical application

Pharmacol Res. 2017 Jan;115:56-64. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2016.11.009. Epub 2016 Nov 14.


Gallium, group IIIa metal, shares certain chemical characteristics with iron which enable it to function as an iron mimetic that can disrupt iron-dependent tumor cell growth. Gallium may also display antimicrobial activity by disrupting iron homeostasis in certain bacteria and fungi. Gallium's action on iron homeostasis leads to inhibition of ribonucleotide reductase, mitochondrial function, and changes in proteins of iron transport and storage. In addition, gallium induces an increase in mitochondrial reactive oxygen species in cells which triggers downstream upregulation of metallothionein and hemoxygenase-1. Early clinical trials evaluated the efficacy of the simple gallium salts, gallium nitrate and gallium chloride. However, newer gallium-ligands such as Tris(8-quinolinolato)gallium(III) (KP46) and gallium maltolate have been developed and are undergoing clinical evaluation. Additional gallium-ligands that demonstrate antitumor activity in preclinical studies have emerged. Their mechanisms of action and their spectrum of antitumor activity may extend beyond the earlier generations of gallium compounds and warrant further investigation. This review will focus on the evolution and potential of gallium-based therapeutics.

Keywords: Cancer; Gallium; Infections; Iron; Metallodrugs; Therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Gallium / pharmacology*
  • Gallium / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Ligands
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Ligands
  • Gallium
  • Iron