Increasing doses of saponin fraction QS-21 were administered as immunological adjuvant in a Phase 1 trial with a constant dose of the melanoma ganglioside GM2 covalently attached to keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH). Twenty-eight patients with AJCC Stage III or IV melanoma who were free from disease after surgery were treated with six vaccinations administered subcutaneously over a 5-month period. Local and systemic reactions were QS-21 dose-related. Doses of < or = 100 micrograms induced mild local tenderness and inflammation at vaccination sites lasting 2-4 days and occasional brief low-grade fever and malaise, but no significant incapacitation. The 200 micrograms dose induced low-grade fever and malaise after 30% of vaccinations and local reactions as large as 20 cm in diameter were seen in all patients, resulting in discomfort with usage of the injected extremity for 5-10 days. The titres of IgM and IgG antibodies against GM2, and IgG antibodies against KLH, were highest at the 100 and 200 micrograms QS-21 doses. No antibodies against QS-21 were detected. This trial identifies the 100 micrograms dose of QS-21 as the optimal well tolerated dose for induction of antibodies against both the melanoma ganglioside/GM2 and the protein KLH in melanoma patients.