The elucidation of detailed new signaling pathways in normal cells and how their perturbation contributes to the development of the malignant phenotype has created innumerable venues for the development of novel drugs that can affect these targets in therapeutically meaningful ways. For example, our understanding of the complex biology underlying the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in normal cells has recently led to the identification of specific agents capable of affecting this biology. Intuitively, one would not presume that inhibiting such a ubiquitous and essential biologic process, such as the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, would lead to a new therapeutic strategy in cancer patients, although empirical evidence has suggested otherwise. The proteasome is a complex structure of many proteins, some of which are specific proteases, that play a critical role in regulating the balance of intracellular protein. Bortezomib, formerly known as PS-341, is a very potent and selective inhibitor of the chymotryptic-like enzymatic function residing in the 26S proteasome. Inhibition of this particular enzymatic activity has now been associated with an enormous panoply of different biologic effects, including everything from the regulation of nuclear factor-kappaB to the stabilization of cell-cycle regulatory proteins and the induction of apoptosis through the upregulation of specific proapoptotic proteins. Inhibiting this particular enzymatic function has now been associated with sometimes dramatic clinical effects in a variety of hematologic malignancies, including multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This activity has led to the recent US Food and Drug Administration approval of bortezomib for the treatment of relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma. This activity has also spawned several clinical studies that have now clearly established activity in a host of different lymphoma subtypes, including the challenging mantle cell lymphomas. These data are simply the tip of the iceberg and will no doubt continue to provide fodder for many years of innovative scientific and clinical development. This development will likely lead to the eventual integration of this promising new class of molecules into the mainstream treatment of many hematologic malignancies, including myeloma and hopefully several different non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. Understanding how precisely to integrate these novel compounds will require us to learn more regarding the array of different biologic effects proteasome inhibitors have on the cell and how these effects can be further augmented with conventional chemotherapy drugs. The story is testament to the value of recognizing the importance of empiric observations in clinical and preclinical investigations.