Descriptive studies have shown an association between eosinophils, interleukin (IL)-5 and pathophysiological processes in patients with atopic asthma. These observations have led to an interest in the eosinophil as the pathogenic cell responsible for many of the clinical features of asthma including symptoms of wheeze, shortness of breath and cough, along with the physiological events such as airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) and changes in lung function. IL-5 is one of the key cytokines responsible for eosinopoiesis in the bone marrow, along with recruitment and survival of eosinophils in the tissues. In view of this, IL-5 has been an attractive target for the development of anti-IL-5 monoclonal antibodies, inhibiting its action. The results of preclinical studies are viewed as encouraging. Preclinical development involved studies in mice, guinea-pigs and cynomolgus monkeys, with conflicting results in terms of changes in blood and bronchoalveolar lavage eosinophils, AHR and pulmonary resistance. These may be attributed to interspecies differences and to the different models used. Monoclonal antibodies directed against IL-5 have been used in at least four studies involving patients with asthma. Those preliminary studies have shown clear reductions in both blood and sputum eosinophils but no significant changes in physiological parameters of AHR, the late asthmatic reaction or in lung function or symptoms. As in the animal studies, these results suggest a dissociation between eosinophils, AHR, lung function and symptoms of asthma, which may be explained by the multitude of cells involved in the pathogenesis of asthma.