Preclinical toxicology studies are performed prior to phase I trials with novel cancer therapeutics to identify a safe clinical starting dose and potential human toxicities. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the ability of rodent-only toxicology studies to identify a safe phase I trial starting dose. In addition, the ability of murine studies to predict the quantitative and qualitative human toxicology of cancer therapeutics was studied. Data for 25 cancer drugs were collated for which the preclinical and clinical routes and schedules of administration were either the same (22/25), or closely matched. The maximum tolerated dose/dose lethal to 10% of mice (MTD/LD10) was identified for 24 drugs, and in patients the maximum administered dose (MAD) was associated with dose-limiting toxicity (DLT) in initial clinical trials with 20 compounds. In addition, for 13 agents, the toxicity of the drug at one-tenth the mouse MTD/LD10 was also investigated in rats, following repeated administration (20 doses). A phase I trial starting dose of one-tenth the mouse MTD/LD10 (mg m(-2)) was, or would have been, safe for all 25 compounds. With the exception of nausea and vomiting, which cannot be assessed in rodents, other common DLTs were accurately predicted by the murine studies (i.e. 7/7 haematological and 3/3 neurological DLTs). For two of the 13 drugs studied in rats, repeated administration of one-tenth the mouse MTD/LD10 was toxic, leading to a reduction in the phase I trial starting dose; however, one-tenth the mouse MTD/LD10 was subsequently tolerated in patients. For the 20 drugs where clinical DLT was reached, the median ratio of the human MAD to the mouse MTD/LD10 was 2.6 (range 0.2-16) and the median ratio of the clinical starting dose to the MAD was 35 (range 2.3-160). In contrast, in 13 subsequent phase I trials with 11 of the initial 25 drugs, the median ratio of the clinical starting dose to the MAD was 2.8 (range 1.6-56), emphasizing the value of early clinical data in rapidly defining the dose range for therapeutic studies. For all 25 drugs studied, rodent-only toxicology provided a safe and rapid means of identifying the phase I trial starting dose and predicting commonly encountered DLTs. This study has shown that the routine use of a non-rodent species in preclinical toxicology studies prior to initial clinical trials with cancer therapeutics is not necessary.