The long-standing perception of Protein Kinase C (PKC) as a family of oncoproteins has increasingly been challenged by evidence that some PKC isoforms may act as tumor suppressors. To explore the hypothesis that activation, rather than inhibition, of these isoforms is critical for anticancer activity, we isolated and characterized a family of 16 novel phorboids closely-related to tigilanol tiglate (EBC-46), a PKC-activating epoxytigliane showing promising clinical safety and efficacy for intratumoral treatment of cancers. While alkyl branching features of the C12-ester influenced potency, the 6,7-epoxide structural motif and position was critical to PKC activation in vitro. A subset of the 6,7-epoxytiglianes were efficacious against established tumors in mice; which generally correlated with in vitro activation of PKC. Importantly, epoxytiglianes without evidence of PKC activation showed limited antitumor efficacy. Taken together, these findings provide a strong rationale to reassess the role of PKC isoforms in cancer, and suggest in some situations their activation can be a promising strategy for anticancer drug discovery.