Different recombinant human erythropoietin products have been developed. Although they appear to have similar pharmacokinetics and function, these have not been directly compared. This randomized, double-blind, four-period crossover study compared the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of intravenous and subcutaneous epoetin alfa and epoetin beta in 18 normal male volunteers. As a control, three subjects received placebo treatment. After intravenous administration, the steady-state volume of distribution and beta-phase volume of distribution of epoetin beta were 7.7% and 16.9% larger than for epoetin alfa (p less than 0.05). The terminal elimination half-life after intravenous administration of epoetin beta was 20% longer than the terminal elimination half-life of epoetin alfa. After subcutaneous administration there was a delayed drug absorption with epoetin beta compared with epoetin alfa (p less than 0.05). There was a small but significantly greater absolute reticulocyte response after subcutaneous epoetin beta compared with subcutaneous epoetin alfa. The findings support differences in the pharmacokinetics and function of epoetin alfa and beta that are possibly caused by differences in their glycosylation.