BACKGROUND Inadequate localized drug concentrations and systemic adverse effects are among the concerns when regional infections are treated with systemic antibiotics. We designed and fabricated a poly(D,L)-lactide-co-glycolide (PLGA)-based biodegradable drug delivery system and evaluated the release of antibiotics both in vitro and in vivo. METHODS PLGA copolymer and penicillin G sodium were mixed, compressed, and sintered to fabricate biodegradable antibiotic beads. The beads were placed in phosphate-buffered saline to test the characteristics of in vitro drug release. The beads then were introduced into the pleural cavities through chest tubes of six New Zealand white rabbits. Daily pleural effusion was collected to measure the antibiotic concentration and bacterial inhibitory characteristics. RESULTS Forty percent of the penicillin was released in the first day in the in vitro study. The rest of the antibiotic was then gradually released in the following 30 days. All six animals survived the experiment. The initial surge of drug release was less significant in the pleural cavity than in the phosphate-buffered saline. The drug concentrations were well above the minimum inhibitory concentration breakpoint for penicillin susceptibility throughout the study period in both in vitro (30 days) and in vivo (14 days) studies. CONCLUSIONS These preliminary findings demonstrated that the biodegradable PLGA antibiotic beads could achieve a fairly steady antibiotic release in the pleural cavity for at least 2 weeks. This drug delivery system may have the potential to serve as an adjuvant treatment of pleural cavity infection.