The authors have developed a Web-based system that provides summary information about clinical trials being conducted throughout the United States. The first version of the system, publicly available in February 2000, contains more than 4,000 records representing primarily trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The impetus for this system has come from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Modernization Act of 1997, which mandated a registry of both federally and privately funded clinical trials "of experimental treatments for serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions." The system design and implementation have been guided by several principles. First, all stages of system development were guided by the needs of the primary intended audience, patients and other members of the public. Second, broad agreement on a common set of data elements was obtained. Third, the system was designed in a modular and extensible way, and search methods that take extensive advantage of the National Library of Medicine's Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) were developed. Finally, since this will be a long-term effort involving many individuals and organizations, the project is being implemented in several phases.