Use of polymeric drug delivery systems is rapidly becoming an established approach for improvement of cancer chemotherapy. Zoladex, a poly lactide-co-glycolide subcutaneous implant that delivers a luteinizing hormone releasing hormone analog over 28 days, is now the treatment of choice for prostate cancer, and a polyanhydride matrix containing BCNU is currently in phase III evaluation for treatment of glioma multiforme. Soluble polymers were first proposed as targetable drug carriers in the mid-1970s, and although the first conjugates are still at an early stage of development some, e.g. SMANCS (styrene maleic acid-neocarzinostatin) and monomethoxypolyethyleneglycolasparaginase, are now undergoing clinical evaluation and show considerable promise. Polymeric drug delivery systems are usually designed to produce an improved pharmacokinetic profile of an antitumor agent (controlled release) and in addition soluble carriers can achieve either first-order (organ specific) or second-order (tumor specific) drug targeting by virtue of the fact that they are usually administered intravenously and should theoretically access primary and secondary disease. Soluble polymeric carriers have the potential to improve the activity of conventional antitumor agents, peptide and protein drugs, and have recently been used in constructs for delivery of oligonucleotides. With increased awareness that the successful design of a polymeric drug delivery systems can only be achieved with prior consideration of the pathology and stage of the disease, tumor accessibility, biochemistry and cell biology of the target site, choice of appropriate therapeutic agent(s) and understanding of their fundamental mode of action, we have seen the emergence of a number of exciting and potentially more selective antitumor therapies based on polymer technologies. Here, the basic principles for design of soluble polymeric drug delivery systems are explained and illustrated using examples drawn from our studies on the development of N-(2-hydroxypropyl)methacrylamide copolymer conjugates for use in cancer chemotherapy. Those soluble polymeric carriers that are undergoing clinical evaluation are briefly reviewed.