Caffeine Sodium Benzoate: a Novel Agent for Inhibiting Sunlight-Induced Skin Cancer

Invention Summary:

In recent years, sunscreens have been developed to protect from sunlight-induced sunburn, photo-aging, and skin cancer. Sunlight-induced nonmelanoma skin cancers are very prevalent in the United States, with more than 2 million cases reported each year, and sunscreens play an important role in preventing these cancers and protecting from the sun’s radiation. Early studies by Zajdela and Latarjet indicated that topical application of caff eine prior to each UVB treatment inhibited UVB-induced skin cancer in mice. Subsequent research by Dr. Allan Conney and his colleagues at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers showed that both caffeine and caffeine sodium benzoate absorb UVB light, have a sunscreen eff ect as well as a biological effect that resulted in killing DNA damaged cells by a process called apoptosis.

In mechanistic animal studies, topical application of caff eine sodium benzoate (incorporated within a dermatological cream) on mice 30 minutes before UVB radiation was more eff ective than caff eine in inhibiting formation of thymine dimers in DNA and for inhibiting formation of UVB-induced sunburn lesions.

Using mice at high risk for developing malignant and non-malignant skin tumors due to UVB radiation exposure,Rutgers researchers have demonstrated that topically applied caffeine sodium benzoate was more efficacious than caffeine in inhibiting skin cancer formation in the absence of further UVB radiation. Further, when applied, the topical caffeine sodium benzoate inhibited growth of pre-existing tumors and also decreased the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma by 78% and carcinoma volume per mouse by 93% in UVB pretreated mice. One of the major recommendations for inhibiting sunlight-induced skin cancer in humans is the use of conventional sunscreens to inhibit UVB-induced DNA damage. Although skin cells possess the ability to repair DNA damage using DNA repair enzymes, excessive exposure of epidermal cells to UV can lead to cellular mutations and genetic instability.

In vivo data from Dr. Conney’s research group has demonstrated the utility of caffeine sodium benzoate both as a sunscreen and a selective agent for removing DNA damaged cells with greater activity than caff eine. In addition, the normal non-irradiated epidermis remained unaff ected by caffeine or caffeine sodium  benzoate, highlighting selectivity for the action of these compounds on UVB-treated epidermis.

In summary, caffeine sodium benzoate is more effective than caffeine as a sunscreen and for increasing apoptosis in UVB-treated skin, as well as for inhibiting UVB-induced carcinogenesis. We therefore propose caff eine sodium benzoate as a novel inhibitor of sunlight-induced skin cancers.

Market Applications:

  • Topical sunscreen
  • Enhancer of UVB-induced apoptosis
  • Skin cancer prevention and treatment
  • Skin care


  • Novel approach for prevention of sunlight-induced skin cancer
  • Topical skin sunscreen
  • Inhibition of UVB-induced skin cancer when given after stopping UVB 

Intellectual Property & Development Status:

A United States Patent US 8,029,770 B2 titled: Caffeine Salt Complexes and Methods for using the same in the Prevention of or Treatment of Cancer, granted October 2011.

Rutgers ID: 2003-177
Life Sciences
Yong Zhang
Licensing Manager
Allan Conney
Yao-Ping Lu
You-Rong Lou