Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and microdialysis have become the most reliable and relevant methods for measuring lung concentrations of antibiotics, with the majority of BAL studies involving either healthy adult subjects or patients undergoing diagnostic bronchoscopy. Emphasis on the amount of drug that reaches the site of infection is increasingly recognized as necessary to determine whether a dose selection will translate to good clinical outcomes in the treatment of patients with pneumonia. Observed concentrations and/or parameters of exposure (e.g. area-under-the-curve) need to be incorporated with pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic indices so that rational dose selection can be identified for specific pathogens and types of pneumonic infection (community-acquired vs hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia, including ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia). Although having measured plasma or lung concentration–time data from critically ill patients to incorporate into pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic models is very unlikely during drug development, it is essential that altered distribution, augmented renal clearance, and renal or hepatic dysfunction should be considered. Notably, the number of published studies involving microdialysis and intrapulmonary penetration of antibiotics has been limited and mainly involve beta-lactam agents, levofloxacin, and fosfomycin. Opportunities to measure in high-resolution effect site spatial pharmacokinetics (e.g. with MALDI-MSI or PET imaging) and in vivo continuous drug concentrations (e.g. with aptamer-based probes) now exist. Going forward these studies could be incorporated into antibiotic development programs for pneumonia in order to further increase the probability of candidate success.