Imatinib mesylate represents the first of a new generation of molecularly targeted therapies engineered to disrupt signal transduction pathways. It is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor with relatively selective activity against the Abelson (ABL) proto-oncogene, platelet-derived growth factor receptor, and c-KIT receptor. Deregulated tyrosine kinase activity has been implicated as a central pathogenic event in a number of human malignancies, most notably chronic myeloid leukemia. In this myeloproliferative disorder the t(9;22) reciprocal translocation results in the generation of a novel fusion oncoprotein, BCR-ABL, with constitutive tyrosine kinase activity. Imatinib inhibits this activity, inducing remarkable rates of hematological and cytogenetic remission in excess of those seen with alternative medical therapies. Following a large phase III study comparing its efficacy with the combination of interferon alpha and low-dose cytarabine, it has emerged as the current gold standard therapy for patients with chronic-phase disease without a potential bone marrow donor and those considered unsuitable for bone marrow transplantation. Its integration into the management of those patients who might be considered for transplantation, which has historically been considered the only potentially curative approach, remains a major challenge. The increasing recognition and subsequent molecular characterization of resistance mechanisms has reinforced the need to exercise caution against deferring a proven curative therapy in favor of a treatment approach that is still investigational, with the spectre of increased numbers of patients progressing to sudden-onset blast crisis remaining the potential dark cloud in the silver lining for imatinib.