In search for specific drugs against steroid-dependent cancers we have developed a novel set of potent inhibitors of steroidogenic human 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (17beta-HSD 1). The X-ray structure of 17beta-HSD 1 in complex with estradiol served as basis for the design of the inhibitors. 2-Substituted estrone and D-homo-estrone derivatives were synthesized and tested for 17beta-HSD 1 inhibition. The best 17beta-HSD 1 inhibitor, 2-phenethyl-D-homo-estrone, revealed an IC(50) of 15 nM in vitro. The inhibitory potency of compounds is comparable or better to that of previously described inhibitors. An interaction within the cofactor binding site is not necessary to obtain this high binding affinity for substances developed.