Activation of the p53 tumour suppressor is predicted to have therapeutically beneficial effects. Many current anti-cancer therapies activate the p53 response via DNA damage. Non-genotoxic activation of the p53 pathway would open the way to long-term and possibly prophylactic treatments. We have established a simple protocol to screen small compound libraries for activators of p53-dependent transcription, and to select and characterise the most interesting hits, which include non-genotoxic activators. These compounds or their derivatives are of potential clinical interest. This approach may also lead to the identification of novel p53-activating compound families and possibly to the description of novel molecular pathways regulating p53 activity.