The therapeutic efficacy of gemcitabine, a new nucleoside analogue, was assessed in a variety of well-established human soft tissue sarcoma and ovarian cancer xenografts grown s.c. in nude mice. Tumour lines selected had different histological subtypes, growth rates and sensitivities to conventional cytostatic agents. The three different doses and schedules designed on the basis of a mean weight loss between 5% and 15% were i.p. injections of daily 3.5 mg kg-1 x 4, every 3 days 120 mg kg-1 x 4, and weekly 240 mg kg-1 x 2, which ultimately resulted in 19%, 10% and 4% toxic deaths, respectively. The weekly schedule induced > or = 50% growth inhibition in 2/4 soft tissue sarcoma and 4/6 ovarian cancer lines, while in three ovarian cancer lines > or = 75% growth inhibition was obtained. The anti-tumour effects of gemcitabine appeared to be similar or even better than previous data with conventional drugs tested in the same tumour lines. In comparison with the every 3 days schedule, the weekly and the daily schedule were less effective in 5/7 and 3/3 tumour lines (P < 0.001), respectively. In another experiment in three human tumour lines selected for their differential sensitivity to gemcitabine, weekly injections of 240 mg kg-1 x 6 did not result in a significant increase in the percentages of growth inhibition when compared to lower doses of 120 mg kg-1 or 60 mg kg-1 in the same schedule. However, the 240 mg kg-1 weekly x 6 schedule showed superior effects in 2/3 tumour lines in comparison with the same dose given every 2 weeks x 3 (P < 0.05). The preclinical activity of gemcitabine suggests that the drug can induce responses in soft tissue sarcoma and ovarian cancer patients. Our results further indicate that clinical trials of gemcitabine in solid tumour types should be designed on the basis of a schedule rather than a dose dependence.