CD33 is expressed by acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells in >80% of patients but not by normal hematopoietic stem cells, suggesting that elimination of CD33(+) cells may be therapeutically beneficial. A conjugate of a calicheamicin hydrazide derivative attached via hydrazone formation to the oxidized carbohydrates of the anti-CD33 murine antibody P67.6 had been chosen for use in AML prior to humanization of this antibody. However, the CDR-grafted humanized P67.6 could not be used to make the carbohydrate conjugate because of the unexpected sensitivity of this antibody to periodate oxidation. Exploration of a series of bifunctional linkers resulted in a new class of calicheamicin conjugates, termed the hybrid conjugates, that allows for the attachment of the calicheamicin to lysines but incorporates the site of hydrolytic release, a hydrazone, previously shown to be required for activity. The optimized conjugate chosen for clinical trials, gemtuzumab ozogamicin ("gem-ozo", Mylotarg, formerly designated CMA-676), was significantly more potent and selective than the carbohydrate conjugate it replaced. It was selectively cytotoxic to HL-60 leukemia cells in tissue culture with an IC(50) in the low to sub-pg cal/mL range (cal = calicheamicin equivalents). Doses of gem-ozo as low as 50 microg cal/kg given three times to mice bearing HL-60 xenografts routinely resulted in long-term, tumor-free survivors, while a nonbinding control conjugate was relatively inactive. Gem-ozo at a concentration of 2 to 10 ng cal/mL selectively inhibited leukemia colony formation by marrow cells from a significant proportion of AML patients. Gem-ozo has also shown significant activity against AML in Phase II trials and is the first antibody-targeted chemotherapeutic agent approved by the FDA.