Gene-directed enzyme prodrug therapy (GDEPT) is a two step therapeutic approach for cancer gene therapy. In the first step, the transgene is delivered into the tumor and expressed. In the second step a prodrug is administered and is selectively activated by the expressed enzyme. The first GDEPT system described was the thymidine kinase gene of the Herpes Simplex virus (HSVtk) in combination with the prodrug Ganciclovir (GCV). A large number of experiments have been performed with this system, in different types of tumors and initial studies in animal models were very promising. This encouraged investigators to move into clinical trials although poor results have been obtained so far. A large effort has been made with numerous different strategies to enhance HSVtk/GCV efficacy in cellular and in vivo models and very strong cytotoxic effects have been obtained. The present review describes the current state of preclinical research and summarizes the results of the clinical trials undertaken.