Dianhydrogalactitol (VAL-083) is an experimental cancer drug currently in clinical trials. This caught my attention because of its chemical structure. It is a simple sugar derivative with two epoxide groups. These epoxide groups are very reactive, and so the compound falls into the class of cancer drugs known as DNA alkylating agents. This is an old class of drugs, and the trend in oncology research has been to move away from these types because they tend to be indiscriminate in the kinds of cells they kill. They are good at damaging DNA and this simply keeps cells from multiplying. Since tumor cells are doing too much multiplying, the tumor is damaged somewhat more than other tissues.
This chemical certainly looks like a cancer drug from the 1970s. And in fact, there are reports in the literature of clinical trials of dianhydrogalactitol from that time period. So why is Del Mar Pharmaceuticals reviving this old drug now? It must make an interesting story. Dianhydrogalactitol seems to have had little success as a potential cancer drug 30 or 40 years ago, but it may be getting a second chance now. According to these reports the US FDA and the European Medicines Agency have each granted it orphan drug status for the treatment of glioma, a type of brain tumor.