Heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) is a molecular chaperone with many oncogenic client proteins. The small-molecule Hsp90 inhibitor alvespimycin, a geldanamycin derivative, is being developed for various malignancies. This phase 1 study examined the maximum-tolerated dose (MTD), safety and pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic profiles of alvespimycin in patients with advanced acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Patients with advanced AML received escalating doses of intravenous alvespimycin (8-32 mg/m(2)), twice weekly, for 2 of 3 weeks. Dose-limiting toxicities (DLTs) were assessed during cycle 1. A total of 24 enrolled patients were evaluable for toxicity. Alvespimycin was well tolerated; the MTD was 24 mg/m(2) twice weekly. Common toxicities included neutropenic fever, fatigue, nausea and diarrhea. Cardiac DLTs occurred at 32 mg/m(2) (elevated troponin and myocardial infarction). Pharmacokinetics revealed linear increases in C(max) and area under the curve (AUC) from 8 to 32 mg/m(2) and minor accumulation upon repeated doses. Pharmacodynamic analyses on day 15 revealed increased apoptosis and Hsp70 levels when compared with baseline within marrow blasts. Antileukemia activity occurred in 3 of 17 evaluable patients (complete remission with incomplete blood count recovery). The twice-weekly administered alvespimycin was well tolerated in patients with advanced AML, showing linear pharmacokinetics, target inhibition and signs of clinical activity. We determined a recommended phase 2 dose of 24 mg/m(2).