The chemistry required for covalent biotinylation of drugs, radiopharmaceuticals and other ligands is highly developed, and a large number of biotinylated reagents can be readily synthesized. In order to investigate whether expression of avidin cDNA in mammalian cells might be useful as part of a drug targeting strategy, we transiently expressed the avidin gene in two human tumor cell lines (the cervical carcinoma cell line, HeLa, and the liver derived line, Hep G2). Avidin protein as detected by either immunohistochemistry or binding of streptavidin-biotin complexes was present and functional following transient expression. This result indicated that the mechanisms underlying avidin oligomerization which are necessary for proper protein folding are present within mammalian carcinoma cell lines. Next, we generated a producer cell line (derived from psi2) capable of releasing a recombinant retrovirus encoding chicken avidin, and a tumorigenic murine breast cancer cell line (16/C) with stable avidin expression. We show that these cell lines are suitable for conferring functional expression of avidin in vitro. These experiments establish a means by which avidin gene expression can be explored as a mechanism for targeted gene delivery of biotin-derivitized drugs in vitro, and have important implications for utilization of this strategy in vivo.