This paper reports on a multidisciplinary meeting held to discuss ethical issues in medical research in the developing world. Many studies, including clinical trials, are conducted in developing countries with a high burden of disease. Conditions under which this research is conducted vary because of differences in culture, public health, political, legal and social contexts specific to these countries. Research practices, including standards of care for participants, may vary as a result. It is therefore not surprising that ethical issues emerge. This meeting sought to identify and discuss these issues from the perspectives of the many actors in such research, including community representatives, with a view to finding ethical and pragmatic solutions to these issues. Dialogue between these actors was also promoted, with a view to identifying the need to develop such dialogue in future. Drawing from the experiences of the speakers, the colloquium attempted to outline some answers to several key questions characterising the field today. Experiences related to epidemiologic research, vaccine trials, drug trials, diagnostic tests and to some fundamental ethical issues in health research. Speakers were from different countries, disciplines and professions. The meeting provided a forum for consultation and debate between different ethics actors. Both encouraging findings and challenges emerged.