As a result of recent, substantial capacity building, a new landscape for cancer drug trials is emerging in China. However, data on the characteristics of cancer drug trials, and how they have changed over time, are scarce. Based on clinical trials published on the China Food and Drug Administration Registration and Information Disclosure Platform for Drug Clinical Studies, we aimed to systematically review changes over time in clinical trials of cancer drugs in mainland China from 2009 to 2018, to provide insight on the effectiveness of the pharmaceutical industry and identify unmet clinical needs of stakeholders. A total of 1493 trials of 751 newly tested cancer drugs were initiated. Increases over time were observed for the annual number of initiated trials, newly tested drugs, and newly added leading clinical trial units, with a sharp increase after 2016. Of the 1385 trials in which cancer types were identified, solid tumours (325 [23%] trials), non-small-cell lung cancer (232 [17%]), and lymphoma (126 [9%]) were the most common. A markedly uneven distribution was also observed in the geography of leading units with the largest number of leading units located in east China (50 [41%]) and the smallest number located in southwest China (4 [3%]). The growth trends we observed illustrate the progress in and increasing capability of cancer drug research and development achieved in mainland China over the decade from 2009. The low number of clinical trials on tumours with epidemiological characteristics unique to the Chinese population and the unbalanced geographical distribution of leading clinical trial units will provide potential targets for policy makers and other stakeholders. Further research efforts should address cancers uniquely relevant to Chinese populations, globally rare cancers, and the balance between equitable drug access, efficiency, and sustainability of cancer drug research and development in mainland China.