The new photosensitizer, meso-tetrahydroxyphenylchlorin (mTPHC) was compared with Photofrin in the murine RIF1 tumour and in normal mouse skin. A range of mTHPC or Photofrin doses were given at intervals of 1 hr to 7 days before illumination. mTHPC-PDT resulted in much higher tumour phototoxicity with longer regrowth delays and more cures. The RIFI tumour could be effectively treated with 30 J cm−1 (interstitial illumination) at 1 day after mTHPC, whereas 4 to 13 times higher light doses were required with Photofrin for an equivalent anti-tumour effect. High doses of mTHPC also caused more skin phototoxicity (superficial illumination) than Photofrin for the 1-day illumination interval. Evaluating both tumour and normal skin photosensitization, the largest therapeutic gain factor (TGF) for mTHPC-PDT was achieved with a low drug dose (0.15 mg kg−1) at 1 day before illumination (TGF = 5.6, relative to Photofrin PDT). The duration of cutaneous photosensitivity for mTHPC was shorter than for Photofrin. The light dose required to produce a desquamation response in 50% of the animals increased more than 20-fold over the period 1 to 7 days after high doses of mTHPC, whereas this light dose only increased by a factor of 2 from 1 to 7 days after Photofrin. The large therapeutic gains seen for mTHPC-mediated PDT compared to Photofrin, plus the rapid fading of skin photosensitization, suggest that mTHPC is a potent photosensitizer suitable for clinical testing. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.