Intravenous administration of paclitaxel is hindered by poor water solubility of the drug. Currently, paclitaxel is dissolved in a mixture of ethanol and Cremophor EL; however, this formulation (Taxol) is associated with significant side effects, which are considered to be related to the pharmaceutical vehicle. A new polymer-conjugated derivative of paclitaxel, PNU166945, was investigated in a dose-finding phase I study to document toxicity and pharmacokinetics. A clinical phase I study was initiated in patients with refractory solid tumors. PNU16645 was administered as a 1-h infusion every 3 weeks at a starting dose of 80 mg/m(2), as paclitaxel equivalents. Pharmacokinetics of polymer-bound and released paclitaxel were determined during the first course. Twelve patients in total were enrolled in the study. The highest dose level was 196 mg/m(2), at which we did not observe any dose-limiting toxicities. Hematologic toxicity of PNU166945 was mild and dose independent. One patient developed a grade 3 neurotoxicity. A partial response was observed in one patient with advanced breast cancer. PNU166945 displayed a linear pharmacokinetic behavior for the bound fraction as well as for released paclitaxel. The study was discontinued prematurely due to severe neurotoxicity observed in additional rat studies. The presented phase I study with PNU166945, a water-soluble polymeric drug conjugate of paclitaxel, shows an alteration in pharmacokinetic behavior when paclitaxel is administered as a polymer-bound drug. Consequently, the safety profile may differ significantly from standard paclitaxel.