The last 5 years have seen a major upturn in the fortune of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), with nine mAbs approved for clinical use during this period and more than 70 now in clinical trials beyond phase II. Sales are expected to reach $4 billion per annum worldwide in 2002 and $15 billion by 2010. This success can be related to the engineering of mouse mAbs into mouse/human chimaeric antibodies or humanized antibodies, which have had a major effect on immunogenicity, effector function and half-life. The issue of repeated antibody dosing at high levels with limited toxicity was essential for successful clinical applications. Emerging technologies (phage display, human antibody-engineered mice) have created a vast range of novel, antibody-based therapeutics, which specifically target clinical biomarkers of disease. Modified recombinant antibodies have been designed to be more cytotoxic (toxin delivery), to enhance effector functions (bivalent mAbs) and to be fused with enzymes for prodrug therapy and cancer treatment. Antibody fragments have also been engineered to retain specificity and have increased the penetrability of solid tumours (single-chain variable fragments). Radiolabelling of antibodies has now been shown to be effective for cancer imaging and targeting. This article focuses on developments in the design and clinical use of recombinant antibodies for cancer therapy.