PURPOSE To evaluate the safety, pharmacokinetics, and biological activity of suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA) administered by 2-h i.v. infusion in patients with advanced cancer. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN SAHA was administered for 3 days every 21 days in part A and 5 days for 1-3 weeks in part B. Dose escalation proceeded independently in patients with solid tumor and hematological malignancies (part B only). Pharmacokinetic studies were performed along with assessment of acetylated histones in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and tumor tissues. RESULTS No dose-limiting toxicities were observed in 8 patients enrolled in part A (75, 150, 300, 600, and 900 mg/m(2)/day). Among 12 hematological and 17 solid tumor patients enrolled in part B (300, 600, and 900 mg/m(2)/day), therapy was delayed > or = 1 week for grade 3/4 leukopenia and/or thrombocytopenia in 2 of 5 hematological patients at 600 mg/m(2)/day x 5 days for 3 weeks. The maximal-tolerated dose was 300 mg/m(2)/day x 5 days for 3 weeks for hematological patients. One solid patient on 900 mg/m(2)/day x 5 days for 3 weeks developed acute respiratory distress and grade 3 hypotension. The cohort was expanded to 6 patients, and no additional dose-limiting toxicities were observed. Mean terminal half-life ranged from 21 to 58 min, and there was dose-proportional increase in area under the curve. An accumulation of acetylated histones in peripheral blood mononuclear cells up to 4 h postinfusion was observed at higher dose levels. Posttherapy tumor biopsies showed an accumulation of acetylated histones by immunohistochemistry. Four (2 lymphoma and 2 bladder) patients had objective tumor regression with clinical improvement in tumor related symptoms. CONCLUSIONS Daily i.v. SAHA is well tolerated, inhibits the biological target in vivo, and has antitumor activity in solid and hematological tumors.