This study demonstrates the utility of an in vitro – in vivo correlative approach in the selection and optimization of a prodrug candidate of celecoxib (CBX), a COX2 inhibitor. As an initial screening step, a comparative single oral dose pharmacokinetic study was conducted in rats for CBX and its three aliphatic acyl water-soluble prodrugs viz., CBX-acetyl (CBX-AC), CBX-propionyl (CBX-PR) and CBX-butyryl (CBX-BU) at high equimolar dose, 100 mg/kg. Only CBX-BU and CBX-PR converted rapidly to CBX and yielded approximately five-fold greater systemic exposure of CBX than CBX alone or CBX-AC. Rank order of systemic exposure of prodrugs in its intact form was CBX-AC >CBX-PR >CBX-BU. Further in vitro hydrolysis studies of CBX prodrugs in intestinal mucosal suspensions and liver homogenates indicated that CBX-BU is rapidly and completely converted to CBX, whereas CBX-PR and CBX-AC require longer incubation period for complete conversion to CBX. There was a very good correlation of the in vitro and in vivo data supporting CBX-BU as the prodrug of choice. Further in vitro pharmacological studies showed that COX2 selective inhibition is improved for CBX-BU as compared to CBX-AC and CBX-PR. Dose proportionality in pharmacokinetic studies of CBX-BU and CBX at equimolar oral doses confirmed that relative oral bioavailability of CBX was improved following CBX-BU administration and there was linearity in pharmacokinetics of CBX over a wide dose range (10–100 mg/kg), whereas CBX in its conventional form showed poor bioavailability and lack of dose linearity in pharmacokinetics. The oral bioavailability of CBX from CBX-BU was dose independent and was in the range 78–96%. At a 50% reduced molar dose, CBX-BU showed an equivalent efficacy to that of CBX in the in vivo carrageenan model. Based on the study, water-soluble CBX-BU prodrug can be considered for clinical development in view of its potential advantages.Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.