Antibiotic Drugs For Cancer Treatment

An antibiotic is a chemical made by a microbe that antagonizes the growth of other cells.  Chemotherapy antibiotics are not the same as the ones used to fight bacterial infections.  Those drugs disrupt the cell membranes. Antineoplastic antibiotics bind with DNA, causing these famously coiled molecules to uncoil, thereby preventing RNA synthesis, a key step in protein synthesis.   They also oxidize critical compounds the cells need.   In this they are like many chemotherapy medicines. The origins of the antibiotics are microorganisms (bacteria or fungi) but once they get discovered as effective drugs, their chemical structure is elucidated and they are made by chemical synthesis without biotechnology.

Antibiotics work throughout the cell cycle.  They are classified as cell cycle nonspecific.    Antibiotics are used against leukemia, bladder cancer, testicular cancer, and sarcomas.

See our page on anthracyclines for information on antibiotics in that class, including Doxorubicin, Daunorubicin, Epirubicin, Valrubicin, and Idarubicin.  Mitoxantrone, which this site classifies as a topoisomerase inhibitor, can also be considered an antibiotic.

Some antibiotics derived from the bacteria genus Streptomyces have been investigated for use in cancer treatment, but none are in clinical use at this time.

Other antibiotics in use for cancer treatment include:


Brand/Trade Names: Act-D, Cosmegen, Dactinomycin

Formula: C62H86N12O16


Class: Polypeptide Antibiotic

Administration: Intraveneous

Notes: First antibiotic used against cancer.  First approved by the FDA in 1964.


Brand/Trade Names: Blenoxanen

Formula: C55H84N17O21S3


Class: Glycopeptide Antibiotic

Administration: Intravenous, subcutaneous, intramuscular

Notes:  First approved by the FDA in 1973.


Brand/Trade Names: Mutamycin, MTC

Formula: C15H18N4O5


Class: Antibiotic

Administration: Intravenous

Notes: First discovered as a product of bacteria.  First approved by the FDA in 1974.

Page on salinomycin.