Non-small-cell lung cancer patients with locally advanced or metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis show marginal response to chemotherapy in terms of tumor shrinkage, time to progression and median survival. The identification and implementation of predictive genetic markers of response-specific cytotoxic drugs is a priority of current research and future trials. In this study, we have used quantitative PCR to analyse expression of beta-tubulin III, stathmin, RRM1, COX-2 and GSTP1 in mRNA isolated from paraffin-embedded tumor biopsies of 75 nonsmall-cell lung cancer patients treated as part of a large randomized trial. In total, 22 patients were treated with gemcitabine/cisplatin, 25 with vinorelbine/cisplatin and 28 with paclitaxel/carboplatin. There were no differences in clinical characteristics and transcript levels in the pretreatment biopsies according to treatment arm. Patients with low beta-tubulin III levels had better response in the paclitaxel/carboplatin arm (P=0.05), and those with low RRM1 levels showed a tendency to better response in the gemcitabine/cisplatin arm. Time to progression was influenced by beta-tubulin III (P=0.03) and stathmin (P=0.05) levels in the vinorelbine/cisplatin arm, and there was a tendency toward correlation between beta-tubulin III levels and time to progression in the paclitaxel/carboplatin arm. RRM1 levels influenced time to progression (P=0.05) and even more so, survival (P=0.0028) in the gemcitabine/cisplatin arm. The predictive value of beta-tubulin III, stathmin and RRM1 should be tested in prospective customized chemotherapy trials, the results of which will help tailor chemotherapy to improve patient survival.