The plasma pharmacokinetics of vinblastine and N-(deacetyl-O-4-vinblastoyl-23)-L-ethyl isoleucinate (VileE) in mice have been studied as part of the preclinical investigations of VileE, a new investigational semisynthetic Vinca alkaloid. Groups of animals received the test compounds through i.v. bolus injection at LD10, 0.5 x LD10, and 0.1 x LD10 doses. VileE has also been administered p.o. Drug plasma levels have been analyzed with a sensitive and selective method using liquid-liquid extraction for sample clean-up and high-performance liquid chromatography combined with fluorescence detection for quantification. Following i.v. injection, plasma kinetics of both vinblastine and VileE can be described adequately by a three-compartment open model. VileE demonstrates nonlinear pharmacokinetics with decreasing clearance and increasing terminal half-lives at increasing doses. Comparison of the plasma concentration versus time curves for vinblastine in humans and mice indicates that the toxicity of these compounds may not be directly related to the drug exposure expressed by the area under curve in plasma but by the terminal half-life and the time that a toxic threshold level is attained. Pharmacokinetically guided dose escalation in coming phase I trials of VileE is, therefore, discouraged.