Cyclooxygenase (COX) is the pivotal enzyme in prostaglandin biosynthesis. It exists in two isoforms, constitutive COX-1 (responsible for physiological functions) and inducible COX-2 (involved in inflammation). Inhibition of COX explains both the therapeutic effects (inhibition of COX-2) and side effects (inhibition of COX-1) of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). A NSAID which selectively inhibits COX-2 is likely to retain maximal anti-inflammatory efficacy combined with less toxicity. The activity of a number of NSAIDs has been investigated in several test systems, showing that most of those marketed have higher activities against COX-1 or are equipotent against both isoforms. Adverse event data of marketed NSAIDs show a relationship between a poor safety profile and more potent inhibition of COX-1 relative to COX-2. There are several new non-steroidal COX-2 inhibitors in development. The most clinically advanced is meloxicam, which consistently demonstrates higher activity against COX-2 than COX-1 in several test systems.