Phase I studies of p.o. administered nolatrexed dihydrochloride (AG337, THYMITAQ), a nonclassical thymidylate synthase inhibitor, were performed to establish the maximum tolerated dose and a recommended dose for Phase II studies. The bioavailability and pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of oral nolatrexed were also studied. Forty-five patients were treated with oral nolatrexed every 6 h for 5 days at doses of 288-1000 mg/m2/day. The bioavailability of the oral preparation was determined, and the effect of a standard meal on nolatrexed absorption was investigated at a dose of 800 mg/m2/day. Nolatrexed plasma concentrations were analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography. Nolatrexed was rapidly absorbed with a median bioavailability of 89% (range 33-116%), with 88% of patients above 70%. The dose-limiting toxicities were gastrointestinal, and the recommended Phase II oral dose was 800 mg/m2/day. After a standard meal, the peak plasma nolatrexed concentration achieved was lower (median, 8.3 microg/ml versus 15.0 microg/ml; P = 0.001), and the time taken to reach the peak was longer (median, 180 min versus 45 min; P = 0.00003), but the trough concentration was higher (median, 3.6 microg/ml versus 2.1 microg/ml; P = 0.004) when compared with the fasted state. The area under the nolatrexed plasma concentration versus time curve was not affected by food. Average trough nolatrexed concentration, but not dose, was significantly related to the % decrease in both thrombocytes (r2 = 0.58; C50 = 6.0 microg/ml, where C50 is the plasma concentration associated with a 50% decrease in thrombocytes) and neutrophils (r2 = 0.63; C50 = 0.6 microg/ml). Nolatrexed can be safely administered as an oral preparation at a dose of 800 mg/m2/day for 5 days. Bioavailability was close to 100% and, because inhibition of thymidylate synthase by nolatrexed is rapidly reversible, the slower absorption after a standard meal may result in a shorter duration of noninhibitory concentrations between doses.