Gefitinib ('Iressa', ZD1839) is an orally active epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitor that has demonstrated antitumour activity and favourable tolerability in Phase II studies. We investigated whether EGFR expression levels could predict for response to gefitinib in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), who received gefitinib (250 mg day(-1)) as part of a worldwide compassionate-use programme. Tissue samples were analysed by immunohistochemistry to assess membrane EGFR immunoreactivity. Of 147 patients enrolled in our institution, 50 patients were evaluable for assessment of both clinical response and EGFR expression. The objective tumour response rate was 10% and disease control was achieved in 50% of patients. Although high EGFR expression was more common in squamous-cell carcinomas than adenocarcinomas, all objective responses were observed in patients with adenocarcinoma. Response and disease control with gefitinib were not associated with high EGFR expression. Overall, median survival was 4 months, and the 1-year survival rate was 18%. Strong EGFR staining correlated with shorter survival time for all patients. Gefitinib demonstrated promising clinical activity in this group of patients with NSCLC. These results have also shown that EGFR expression is not a significant predictive factor for response to gefitinib.