Aim: SN 28049 (N-[2-(dimethylamino)ethyl]-2,6-dimethyl-1-oxo-1,2-dihydrobenzo[b]-1,6-naphthyridine-4-carboxamide) is a new DNA binding drug that targets topoisomerase II. SN 28049 is curative against the murine Colon 38 adenocarcinoma (CT38) while etoposide, another topoisomerase II-directed drug, shows minimal activity; we investigated the basis for this difference in vivo and in vitro. Methods: Colon 38 tumours were grown in C57Bl mice and in immunodeficient mice. Tumour sections were examined by staining and TUNEL assays. A new cell line (Co-38P) derived from the in vivo tumour was developed and responses were analysed using flow cytometry. Results: Both SN 28049 and etoposide induced similar tumour histological changes, reducing mitotic index and increasing apoptotic index 8 h after administration. At later times however, SN 28049-treated tumours showed further progressive morphological changes while etoposide-treated tumours reverted to their original growth characteristics. The effects of SN 28049 on tumour growth were delayed and attenuated when Colon 38 tumours were grown in immunodeficient mice. SN 28049 and etoposide both induced dose-dependent increases of γ-phosphorylation of histone H2AX and cell cycle perturbation of the Co-38P cell line, indicative of DNA damage, although SN 28049 had 30-fold higher activity. Following 1-hour drug exposure of Co-38P cells, SN 28049 was more effective that etoposide in inducing persistent cycle arrest for the same degree of DNA damage. Conclusion: The superior antitumour activity of SN 28049 may result from its ability to induce long term cycle arrest. Host immune responses contribute to the curative activity of SN 28049 and this could result from the induction of cycle arrest.