Imatinib mesylate, also known as STI571 or CGP57148, is a competitive inhibitor of a few tyrosine kinases, including BCR-ABL, ABL, KIT, and the platelet-derived growth factor receptors (PDGF-R). It binds to the ATP-binding site of the target kinase and prevents the transfer of phosphate from ATP to the tyrosine residues of various substrates. At oral doses of 300 mg or greater, the vast majority of patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia achieve a haematological response and this is usually associated with limited toxicity. Imatinib also has substantial activity in Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia expressing the BCR-ABL fusion protein. Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs) have also been evaluated for clinical activity of imatinib. About 90% of malignant GISTs harbour a mutation in c-kit leading to KIT receptor autophosphorylation and ligand-independent activation. According to initial clinical studies, more than 50% of GISTs respond to therapy within a few months, and only about 10-15% progress. The potential for cure and the optimal length of treatment are currently not known. Several other human cancers may over-express KIT or PDGF-R, and clinical trials to evaluate the role of imatinib in the treatment of such cancers are currently ongoing. Imatinib is an example of a specifically designed, highly targeted cancer therapy, which poses novel requirements for both pathology laboratories and clinicians in terms of identifying the major molecular mechanisms involved in tumour growth.