Blockade of the renin-angiotensin system began as a way of studying the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease with specific pharmacological probes. Oral activity, achieved by shortening the original peptide structures, transformed the probes into therapeutic agents, the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. However, ACE is a non-specific target for blocking the renin-angiotensin enzymatic cascade. The availability of orally active drugs turned ACE inhibition into a therapeutic breakthrough but more specific blockade always seemed desirable. This goal has now been achieved with the orally active angiotensin II receptor antagonists; six are on the market and more are under development. This new class of drugs is equal in efficacy to ACE inhibitors, at least in hypertensive patients. Trials now underway will demonstrate whether angiotensin II receptor antagonists can prevent target-organ damage and reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. If they do, these compounds might one day replace ACE inhibitors.