On the basis of compelling preclinical data in cats and dogs we initiated a clinical gene therapy study in nine patients with advanced solid tumors using xenogeneic fibroblasts secreting human IL-2 (Vero-IL-2 cells). Cohorts of three successive patients with tumors accessible to CT- or ultrasound-guided injection were treated repeatedly with 5 x 10(5), 5 x 10(6), or 5 x 10(7) Vero-IL-2 cells. Endpoints of the study were feasibility, toxicity, and clinical and biological effects of this novel approach to immunotherapy of cancer. Histopathological, immunological and molecular analyses were performed on biopsy specimens of tumors and blood samples from before, during and after treatment. Low levels of serum antibodies to Vero cells developed in 2/9 patients. Analysis of tumor biopsies showed increased expression of CD3 mRNA and enhanced tumor infiltration with varying lymphocyte subpopulations after treatment. In addition, monoclonal alterations of the TCR repertoire of blood and tumor lymphocytes were observed. Treatment was well tolerated and toxicity consisted of transient fever in one patient and short-lived, mild itching and erythema in two others. One patient with soft tissue sarcoma showed a more than 90% and more than 50% reduction of the volume of two distant, non-injected metastases, respectively, lasting for 22+ months. Four other patients showed stabilization of their disease for three to nine months, among whom was a patient with melanoma who developed marked vitiligo. We conclude that repeated injection of up to 5 x 10(7) Vero-IL-2 cells was safe and showed biological and clinical activity in heavily pretreated patients with advanced solid tumors. Further evaluation of intratumoral application of Vero-IL-2 seems warranted.