Drug discovery and translation are normally based on optimizing efficacy by increasing receptor affinity, functional potency, drug-likeness (rule-of-five compliance) and oral bioavailability. Here we demonstrate that residence time of a compound on its receptor has an overriding influence on efficacy, exemplified for antagonists of inflammatory protein complement C5a that activates immune cells and promotes disease. Three equipotent antagonists (3D53, W54011, JJ47) of inflammatory responses to C5a (3 nM) were compared for drug-likeness, receptor affinity and antagonist potency in human macrophages, and anti-inflammatory efficacy in rats. Only the least drug-like antagonist (3D53) maintained potency in cells against higher C5a concentrations and had a much longer duration of action (t1/2 ~ 20 h) than W54011 or JJ47 (t1/2 ~ 1 -3 h) in inhibiting macrophage responses. The unusually long residence time of 3D53 on its receptor was mechanistically probed by molecular dynamics simulations, which revealed long-lasting interactions that trap the antagonist within the receptor. Despite negligible oral bioavailability, 3D53 was much more orally efficacious than W54011 or JJ47 in preventing repeated agonist insults to induce rat paw oedema over 24 h. Thus, residence time on a receptor can trump drug-likeness in determining efficacy, even oral efficacy, of pharmacological agents.