Our understanding of the clinical and cellular pharmacology of drugs commonly used in the treatment of childhood cancer have increased greatly over the past two decades. However, with the exception of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), our current knowledge of factors such as inter-patient pharmacokinetic variability and cellular determinants of chemosensitivity has not been utilized in the design of integrated clinical studies. Recent pre-clinical and clinical evaluation of the topoisomerase I inhibitors topotecan and irinotecan has highlighted the potential importance of pharmacological factors in their effectiveness as cytotoxics. In this review, the clinical and cellular pharmacology of vincristine, actinomycin D, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, ifosfamide, cisplatin, carboplatin and etoposide will be discussed in relation to the major paediatric solid tumours. For each disease type, knowledge of the clinical and cellular pharmacology of a candidate drug will be related to pharmacodynamic responses such as response, toxicity and prognosis. For diseases such as Wilms' tumour, osteogenic sarcoma and Ewing's tumour, histological response to initial induction chemotherapy is of prognostic significance, and the depth of response is increasingly recognised as an important determinant of prognosis for high-risk neuroblastoma. For several of these tumour types, the dose-intensity of chemotherapy may be an important variable in determining prognosis. However the relationship between pharmacokinetic variability, cellular pharmacology and the major determinants of chemosensitivity to those drugs employed in first line therapy is unknown. The study of these relationships, by means of up front window studies in children who present with high-risk disease, may be as important as the introduction of new agents. Indeed, the optimisation of current therapies may be required to allow a fully informed selection of those children for whom novel therapies are truly needed. Funding and international collaboration at the clinical and scientific level would be required to achieve these aims.