Skip to main content

Unusual metals could forge new cancer drugs

Professor Peter Sadler, University of WarwickDrugs made using unusual metals could form an effective treatment against colon and ovarian cancer, including cancerous cells that have developed immunity to other drugs, according to research at the University of Warwick and the University of Leeds.

The study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, showed that a range of compounds containing the two transition metals Ruthenium and Osmium, which are found in the same part of the periodic table as precious metals like platinum and gold, cause significant cell death in ovarian and colon cancer cells.  

The compounds were also effective against ovarian cancer cells which are resistant to the drug Cisplatin, the most successful transition metal drug, which contains the metal platinum.

  Dr Patrick McGowan, one of the lead authors of the research from the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds, explains: “Ruthenium and Osmium compounds are showing very high levels of activity against ovarian cancer, which is a significant step forward in the field of medicinal chemistry.

Sabine H. van Rijt, lead researcher in the laboratory of Professor Peter Sadler in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick, said:

“Most interestingly, cancerous cells that have shown resistance to the most successful transition metal drug, Cisplatin, show a high death rate with these new compounds.”

 Professor Sadler, at the University of Warwick, commented that he is “excited by the novel design features in these compounds which might enable activity to be switched on and off”.

Cisplatin was discovered in the 1970s and is one of the most effective cancer drugs on the market, with a 95% cure rate against testicular cancer.  Since the success of Cisplatin, chemists all over the world have been trying to discover whether other transition metal compounds can be used to treat cancer.

In this type of anti cancer drug transition metal atoms bind to DNA molecules which trigger apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in the cancerous cells.

The study is a collaboration between the universities of Warwick and Leeds and was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council  (EPSRC).

 For more information please contact:

Dr Patrick McGowan  at leeds +44 (0)113 343 6404, or email:  

Sabine H. van Rijt and Professor Peter Sadler from the University of Warwick are available for interview via  Professor Peter Sadler +44 (0)24 76 523818

 Or please contact  

The University of Warwick Press Office: Peter Dunn on +44(0)24 76523708 or +44(0)7767 655860

The University of Leeds press office on +44 (0)113 343 4031, or email:

The paper ‘Amide Linkage Isomerism As an Activity Switch for Organometallic Osmium and Ruthenium Anticancer Complexes’ is available to journalists on request.

 Notes to Editors

  1. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. T he University of Warwick as ranked 7th in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.  Both universities are members of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, and both have  visions to secure a places among the world's top 50 by 2015.
  2. The University of Leeds  School of Chemistry is highly regarded for its teaching and research excellence both nationally and internationally. In the Research Assessment Exercise 2008 the School was ranked 8th in the country. Our teaching is rated as 'excellent' by the Teaching Quality Assessment. The School has recently benefited from an £8m investment in new research laboratories and another £4m in state-of-the-art teaching laboratories.
  3. The University of Warwick’s  Department of  Chemistry is one of the top UK Chemistry Departments and is at the core of the science faculty at Warwick with both of our education and research spanning across all scientific disciplines and beyond. Warwick Chemistry is continuously investing heavily in its infrastructure to guarantee and nurture a world-class quality in education, cutting-edge research, and university life. This drive for excellence is intensively becoming a magnet for the best scientists in the world reflected in recent academics staff attracted to Warwick from Edinburgh, London Imperial, Cambridge, the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Boston University in the US.
  4. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and from mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements in everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. For more information visit

Peter Dunn, Head of Communications
Communications Office, University House,
University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 8UW, United Kingdom   
Tel: +44 (0)24 76 523708  Mobile/Cell:  +44 (0)7767 655860

Twitter:   @PeterJDunn

19th October 2009