Interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) is produced in large amounts during acute pancreatitis and is believed to play a role in disease progression. Because secretion of IL-1 beta is dependent on intracellular processing of pro-IL-1 beta by IL-1 converting enzyme (ICE), we aimed to determine the efficacy of a novel ICE inactivator (VE-13045) in inhibiting secretion of active IL-1 beta in vivo and if the loss of ICE activity would affect the severity and mortality of experimental pancreatitis. Severe hemorrhagic pancreatitis was induced in adult rats by infusion of bile acid into the pancreatic duct. Animals were randomized to receive VE-13045 or vehicle before induction of pancreatitis. To confirm our findings and to ensure that the results were not model dependent, a second series of experiments was conducted using mice possessing a homozygous knockout of the ICE gene in which lethal pancreatitis was induced by feeding a choline-deficient, ethionine-supplemented diet. The severity of pancreatitis was assessed for both experiments by standard surrogate markers, blind histologic grading, and serum IL-1 beta and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) levels. Pancreatic IL-1 beta mRNA induction was assessed by differential RT-PCR. Acute pancreatitis was associated with a 120-fold increase in IL-1 beta mRNA, which was not affected by ICE inhibition or gene deletion. Cytokine processing and secretion were affected, as evidenced by decreased serum levels of IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha (p < 0.001) in all animals with an inactive ICE enzyme. This lack of cytokine production increased survival from 32% to 78% following bile salt pancreatitis (p < 0.01) and from 24% to 80% following diet-induced pancreatitis (p < 0.005). Both ICE-defective groups demonstrated decreased pancreatic necrosis, edema, inflammation, wet weight (all p < 0.05), and amylase and lipase (p < 0.01). In vivo blockade or genetic deletion of ICE inhibits pancreatitis-induced secretion of proinflammatory cytokines without altering IL-1 mRNA production and is associated with decreased pancreatitis severity and dramatic survival benefits.