Different animal models of pulmonary fibrosis have been developed to investigate potential therapies for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The most common is the bleomycin model in rodents (mouse, rat and hamster). Over the years, numerous agents have been shown to inhibit fibrosis in this model. However, to date none of these compounds are used in the clinical management of IPF and none has shown a comparable antifibrotic effect in humans. We performed a systematic review of publications on drug efficacy studies in the bleomycin model to evaluate the value of this model regarding transferability to clinical use. Between 1980 and 2006 we identified 240 experimental studies describing beneficial antifibrotic compounds in the bleomycin model. 222 of those used a preventive regimen (drug given < or =7 days after last bleomycin application), only 13 were therapeutic trials (>7 days after last bleomycin application). In 5 studies we did not find enough details about the timing of drug application to allow inter-study comparison. It is critical to distinguish between drugs interfering with the inflammatory and early fibrogenic response from those preventing progression of fibrosis, the latter likely much more meaningful for clinical application. All potential antifibrotic compounds should be evaluated in the phase of established fibrosis rather than in the early period of bleomycin-induced inflammation for assessment of its antifibrotic properties. Further care should be taken in extrapolation of drugs successfully tested in the bleomycin model due to partial reversibility of bleomycin-induced fibrosis over time. The use of alternative and more robust animal models, which better reflect human IPF, is warranted.