Improvement of non-surgical strategies is a pivotal task in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Response to treatment with most anticancer agents has been very poor, probably due to insufficient drug concentration in tumor tissue. Increased response rates during chemotherapy might be achieved by dose escalation; however, this approach is often hampered by severe side effects. One strategy to overcome these adverse effects is application of nontoxic glucuronide prodrugs from which the active moiety is released by beta-glucuronidase within or near the tumor. The use of glucuronide prodrugs in pancreatic cancer requires increased expression of the enzyme in the diseased tissue, a problem that has not been addressed so far. We therefore investigated function and expression of beta-glucuronidase in tissue samples from human healthy pancreas (n = 7) and pancreatic adenocarcinoma (n = 8 ), respectively. Comparing the ability of tissue homogenates to cleave the standard substrate 4-methylumbelliferyl-beta-D-glucuronide, we found a significantly increased specific beta-glucuronidase activity (P < 0.05) in pancreatic cancer (median: 133; 75% percentile: 286; 25% percentile: 111 nmol/mg per h) as compared to healthy pancreas (median: 74; 75% percentile: 113; 25% percentile: 71 nmol/mg per h). Enzyme kinetic experiments with the model prodrug N-[4-beta-glucuronyl-3-nitrobenzyloxycarbonyl] doxorubicin (HMR 1826) demonstrated bioactivation of HMR 1826 by pancreatic beta-glucuronidase. Enzymatic activity was found to be closely related to enzyme contents (r = 0.87) as assessed by Western blot analysis. Our data indicate that increased beta-glucuronidase activity in pancreatic cancer seems to be due to an elevated steady-state level of the protein. This may be the basis for new therapeutic strategies in treatment of pancreatic carcinoma by using glucuronide prodrugs of anticancer agents.