Our previous phase II study of cisplatin and gemcitabine in malignant mesothelioma showed a 47.6% (95% CI 26.2-69.0%) response rate with symptom improvement in responding patients. Here we confirm these findings in a multicentre setting, and assess the effect of this treatment on quality of life and pulmonary function. Fifty-three patients with pleural malignant mesothelioma received cisplatin 100 mg m(-2) i.v. day 1 and gemcitabine 1000 mg m(-2) i.v. days 1, 8, and 15 of a 28 day cycle for a maximum of six cycles. Quality of life and pulmonary function were assessed at each cycle. The best response achieved in 52 assessable patients was: partial response, 17 (33%, 95% CI 20-46%); stable disease, 31 (60%); and progressive disease, four (8%). The median time to disease progression was 6.4 months, median survival from start of treatment 11.2 months, and median survival from diagnosis 17.3 months. Vital capacity and global quality of life remained stable in all patients and improved significantly in responding patients. Major toxicities were haematological, limiting the mean relative dose intensity of gemcitabine to 75%. This schedule of cisplatin and gemcitabine is active in malignant mesothelioma in a multicentre setting. Investigation of alternative scheduling is needed to decrease haematological toxicity and increase the relative dose intensity of gemcitabine whilst maintaining response rate and quality of life.