Abstract Composites which comprise a bioactive filler and ductile polymer matrix are desirable as implant materials since both their biological and mechanical properties can be tailored for a given application. In the present study three-point bending was used to characterise biomedical materials composed of glass-ceramic apatite–wollastonite (A–W) particulate reinforced polyethylene (PE) (denoted as AWPEX). The effects of filler volume fraction, varied from 10 to 50 vol%, and average particle size, 4.4 and 6.7 μm, on the bending strength, yield strength, mode of fracture, Young's modulus and strain to failure were investigated. HAPEX™, a commercially used composite of hydroxyapatite and polyethylene, with a 40 vol% filler content, was used for comparison. Increasing the filler content caused an increase in Young's modulus, yield strength and bending strength, and a decreased strain to failure. When filler particle size was increased, the Young's modulus, yield and bending strengths were found to be slightly reduced. A transition in fracture behaviour from ductile to brittle behaviour was observed in samples containing between 30 and 40 vol% filler.