The immunotoxin BU12-SAPORIN was constructed by covalently coupling the single-chain ribosome-inactivating protein saporin to the anti-CD19 monoclonal antibody BU12 via a disulphide linker using the heterobifunctional reagent SPDP. The immunoreactivity and specificity of BU12-SAPORIN was identical to that of unmodified native BU12 antibody. BU12-SAPORIN was selectively cytotoxic in vitro in a dose-dependent manner for the CD19+ human common acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (cALL) cell line NALM-6 but exhibited no toxicity for the CD19- T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) cell line HSB-2. The survival of severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice with disseminated NALM-6 leukaemia was significantly prolonged compared with sham-treated control animals by a course of therapy with BU12-SAPORIN but not with the irrelevant anti-CD7 immunotoxin HB2-SAPORIN. BU12-SAPORIN had no therapeutic effect in SCID mice with disseminated CD19- HSB-2 leukaemia. These preclinical studies have clearly demonstrated the selective cytotoxicity of BU12-SAPORIN for CD19+ target cells both in vitro and in vivo. This, taken together with the lack of expression of the CD19 molecule by any normal life-sustaining tissue and its ubiquitous and homogeneous expression by the majority of cALL and B-NHL cells, provides the rationale for undertaking a phase I trial of systemic therapy with BU12-SAPORIN.