It has been shown previously that 4-anilino quinazolines compete with the ability of ATP to bind the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R), inhibit EGF-stimulated autophosphorylation of tyrosine residues in EGF-R, and block EGF-mediated growth. Since millimolar concentrations of ATP in cells could reduce the efficacy of 4-anilino quinazolines in cells and the activity of these compounds would not be sustained once they were removed from the body, we reasoned that irreversible inhibitors of EGF-R might improve the activity of this series of compounds in animals. Molecular modeling of the EGF-R kinase domain was used to design irreversible inhibitors. We herein describe one such inhibitor: N-[4-[(3-bromophenyl)amino]-6-quinazolinyl]2-butynamide, known as CL-387,785. This compound covalently bound to EGF-R. It also specifically inhibited kinase activity of the protein (IC50 = 370+/-120 pM), blocked EGF-stimulated autophosphorylation of the receptor in cells (ic50 approximately 5 nM), inhibited cell proliferation (IC50 = 31-125 nM) primarily in a cytostatic manner in cell lines that overexpress EGF-R or c-erbB-2, and profoundly blocked the growth of a tumor that overexpresses EGF-R in nude mice (when given orally at 80 mg/kg/day for 10 days, daily). We conclude that CL-387,785 is useful for studying the interaction of small molecules with EGF-R and may have clinical utility.