BACKGROUND: CYT997 is a novel microtubule inhibitor and vascular-disrupting agent with marked preclinical anti-tumour activity. METHODS: This phase I dose-escalation study assessed the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of CYT997 administered by continuous intravenous infusion over 24 h every 3 weeks to patients with advanced solid tumours. RESULTS: Thirty-one patients received CYT997 over 12 dose levels (7-358 mg m(-2)). Doses up to 202 mg m(-2) were well tolerated. Dose-limiting toxicities were observed at 269 and 358 mg m(-2), consisting of grade 3 prolonged corrected QT interval in two patients and grade 3 hypoxia and grade 4 dyspnea in one patient. All toxicities were reversible. The pharmacokinetics of CYT997 were linear over the entire dose range. Dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging scans showed significant changes in tumour K(trans) values consistent with vascular disruption in 7 out of 11 evaluable patients treated at CYT997 doses of >or=65 mg m(-2). Moreover, plasma levels of von Willebrand factor and caspase-cleaved cytokeratin-18 increased post-treatment at higher dose levels. Among 22 patients evaluable for response, 18 achieved stable disease for >2 cycles. CONCLUSIONS: CYT997 was well tolerated at doses that were associated with pharmacodynamic evidence of vascular disruption in tumours.