Sphingosine kinase inhibitors for cancer therapy


Cancer is one of the biggest killers world wide and its prevalence is only set to increase due to the aging population and changes in lifestyle.

The major problem, in terms of successful treatment of cancer, is the development of chemotherapeutic resistance by the cancer cells  which results in unopposed metastasis of the cancer. There is a need to identify the mechanisms responsible for the induction of chemotherapeutic resistance in the cancer cell, and develop therapeutics that can prevent resistance, thereby providing an effective means of killing cancer cells.

Researchers at Strathclyde have found that sphingosine kinase-1 (SK1) is present in high levels in the tumours of breast cancer patients. It has also been found to induce resistance in breast and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells. Both indicate that the enzyme may have a role in the generic development of resistance in cancer cells. Furthermore, cancer cells are dependent on these enzymes for their survival, making them excellent targets for cancer therapeutics.


Our team are developing inhibitors of SK1 for solid tumours. These have a unique mechanism of action as they promote degradation of the enzyme itself. This offers a means of increasing efficacy over and above what simple reversible inhibitors of activity can achieve. SK1 inhibitors also induce apoptosis of cancer cells, thereby providing an effective means to killing these cells. 

We are also developing sphingosine kinase 2 (SK2) inhibitors targeted at haematological cancers.

Key benefits

  • prevent chemotherapeutic resistance of cancer cells
  • induce apoptosis of cancer cells

Markets & applications

  • over 14 million adults were diagnosed with cancer in the world in 2012 and there were eight million deaths from cancer. The global market for cancer treatment is predicted to increase to over $110 billion by 2014
  • targeted therapies comprise the largest share of the market predicted to be greater than 60% by 2014

Licensing & development

This technology is protected by International Patent Application No. PCT/GB2014/050264 ‘Sphingosine Kinase’.  

Contact is welcome from organisations interested in developing, licensing or exploiting this technology. Please contact Catherine Breslin on 0141 548 3707 or email the RKES team.