During 2003 and 2004, marine pharmacology research directed towards the discovery and development of novel anti-tumour agents was published in 163 peer-reviewed articles. The purpose of this review is to present a structured assessment of the anti-tumour and cytotoxic properties of 150 marine natural products, many of which are novel compounds that belong to diverse structural classes, including polyketides, terpenes, steroids and peptides. The organisms yielding these bioactive marine compounds include invertebrate animals, algae, fungi and bacteria. Anti-tumour pharmacological studies were conducted with 31 structurally defined marine natural products in a number of experimental and clinical models that further defined their mechanisms of action. Particularly potent in vitro cytotoxicity data generated with murine and human tumour cell lines was reported for 119 novel marine chemicals with as yet undetermined mechanisms of action. Noteworthy is the fact that marine anti-cancer research was sustained by a global collaborative effort, involving researchers from Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States of America (USA). Finally, this 2003-2004 overview of the marine pharmacology literature highlights the fact that the discovery of novel marine anti-tumour agents continued at the same pace as during 1998-2002.