The BCR-ABL story: bench to bedside and back

Annu Rev Immunol. 2004;22:247-306. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.22.012703.104753.


The twenty-first century is beginning with a sharp turn in the field of cancer therapy. Molecular targeted therapies against specific oncogenic events are now possible. The BCR-ABL story represents a notable example of how research from the fields of cytogenetics, retroviral oncology, protein phosphorylation, and small molecule chemical inhibitors can lead to the development of a successful molecular targeted therapy. Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec, STI571, or CP57148B) is a direct inhibitor of ABL (ABL1), ARG (ABL2), KIT, and PDGFR tyrosine kinases. This drug has had a major impact on the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) as well as other blood neoplasias and solid tumors with etiologies based on activation of these tyrosine kinases. Analysis of CML patients resistant to BCR-ABL suppression by Imatinib mesylate coupled with the crystallographic structure of ABL complexed to this inhibitor have shown how structural mutations in ABL can circumvent an otherwise potent anticancer drug. The successes and limitations of Imatinib mesylate hold general lessons for the development of alternative molecular targeted therapies in oncology.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Benzamides
  • Cytogenetics / history*
  • Drug Design*
  • Genes, abl*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Imatinib Mesylate
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / drug therapy*
  • Piperazines / therapeutic use*
  • Pyrimidines / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzamides
  • Piperazines
  • Pyrimidines
  • Imatinib Mesylate