In this work, the synthesis of interesting urea derivatives 5 based on 1,4-dihydropyridines 3 is described for the first time. Considering that both families exhibit potential as drugs to treat various diseases, their activity as anticancer agents has been evaluated in HeLa (cervix), Jurkat (leukaemia) and A549 (lung) cancer cell lines as well as on healthy mice in vivo. In general, whereas 1,4-dihydropyridines show a moderate cytotoxic activity, their urea analogues cause an extraordinary increase in their antiproliferative activity, specially towards HeLa cells. Because of the chiral nature of these compounds, enantiomerically enriched samples were also tested, showing different cytotoxic activity than the racemic mixture. Although the reason is not clear, it could be caused by a complex amalgam of physical and chemical contributions. The studied compounds also exhibit luminescent properties, which allow performing a biodistribution study in cancer cells. They have emission maxima between 420 and 471 nm, being the urea derivatives in general red shifted. Emission quenching was observed for those compounds containing a nitro group (3e,f and 5e,f). Fluorescence microscopy showed that 1,4-dihydropyridines 3a and 3g localised in the lysosomes, in contrast to the urea derivatives 5h that accumulated in the cell membrane. This different distribution could be key to explain the differences found in the cytotoxic activity and in the mechanism of action. Interestingly, a preliminary in vivo study regarding the acute toxicity of some of these compounds on healthy mice has been conducted, using a concentration up to 7200 times higher than the corresponding IC value. No downgrade in the welfare of the tested mice was observed, which could support their use in preclinical tumour models.Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.