The polar phosphinyl carboxamide, 1'-(diphenylphosphino)-1-[N-(2-hydroxyethyl)carbamoyl]ferrocene [I; Z = null; (1)] , reacts readily with H2O2 and elemental S to give the corresponding phosphine oxide I [Z = O (2)] and phosphine sulfide I [Z = S (3)], resp., and with Pt(II) and Pd(II) precursors to afford various bis(phosphine) complexes [MCl2(1-κP)2] (M = trans-Pd, trans-Pt and cis-Pt). The structures of 2 and 3 were detd. by x-ray crystallog. The anticancer activity of the compds. was evaluated in vitro with the complexes showing moderate cytotoxicities towards human ovarian cancer cells. Also, the biol. activity is strongly influenced by the stereochem., with trans-[PtCl2(1-κP)2] being an order of magnitude more active than the corresponding cis isomer. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.