Olanzapine and risperidone, both second-generation antipsychotic agents, represent two different pharmacologic strategies. Although they share some in vitro properties, they differ by virtue of their chemical structure, spectrum of receptor binding affinities, animal neuropharmacology, pharmacokinetics, and in vivo neuroimaging profile. Based on such differences, it was hypothesized that the two compounds would show distinct safety and/or efficacy characteristics. To test this hypothesis, an international, multicenter, double-blind, parallel-group, 28-week prospective study was conducted with 339 patients who met DSM-IV criteria for schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, or schizoaffective disorder. Results of the study indicated that both olanzapine and risperidone were safe and effective in the management of psychotic symptoms. However, olanzapine demonstrated significantly greater efficacy in negative symptoms (Scale for Assessment of Negative Symptoms summary score), as well as overall response rate (> or = 40% decrease in the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale total score). Furthermore, a statistically significantly greater proportion of the olanzapine-treated than risperidone-treated patients maintained their response at 28 weeks based on Kaplan-Meier survival curves. The incidence of extrapyramidal side effects, hyperprolactinemia, and sexual dysfunction was statistically significantly lower in olanzapine-treated than risperidone-treated patients. In addition, statistically significantly fewer adverse events were reported by olanzapine-treated patients than by their risperidone-treated counterparts. Thus, the differential preclinical profiles of these two drugs were also evident in a controlled, clinical investigation. Olanzapine seemed to have a risk-versus-benefit advantage.