Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is defined by the presence of the constitutively active tyrosine kinase breakpoint cluster region/Abelson (Bcr-Abl), which activates numerous signal transduction pathways leading to uncontrolled cell proliferation. The development of the Bcr-Abl-targeted imatinib represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of CML, because treatment with imatinib resulted in significantly better patient outcome, response rates, and overall survival compared with previous standards. Despite this advance, not all patients benefit from imatinib because of resistance and intolerance. Resistance to imatinib can develop from a number of mechanisms that can be defined as Bcr-Abl-dependent (e.g., most commonly resulting from point mutations in the Abl kinase domain) and Bcr-Abl-independent mechanisms (including the constitutive activation of downstream signaling molecules, e.g., Src family kinases), which could result in the activation of the pathway regardless of Bcr-Abl inhibition. Clearly, new treatment approaches are required for patients resistant to or intolerant of imatinib, which can be dose escalated in patients who demonstrate resistance. This does not result in long-term responses. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is limited by the availability of matched donors and the potential for morbidity. Dasatinib, a dual Bcr-Abl/Src kinase inhibitor, has shown efficacy against all imatinib-resistant Bcr-Abl mutations except for T315I. A large trial program showed that dasatinib is effective in patients previously exposed to imatinib and has a manageable safety profile in all phases of CML and Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, resulting in its approval. Nilotinib, an analogue of imatinib, also has demonstrated activity in a similar patient population. These agents and less clinically advanced strategies are discussed in this review.
- Imatinib intolerance
- Imatinib resistance