Purpose of review: The majority of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) die from disease recurrence and historically, treatment options in both the relapsed and refractory settings of this disease have been limited. However, new insights into the molecular characterization and biology of relapsed and refractory AML have led to novel therapeutics and improvement in outcomes in these settings. The current understanding of mechanisms of disease resistance and status of treatment options both currently available and under exploration in relapsed and refractory AML are summarized in this review.
Recent findings: The rapid approval of multiple therapeutic agents since 2017 has led to improvement in selected populations such as isocitrate dehydrogenase and fms-like tyrosine kinase 3-mutated relapsed and refractory AML with agents such as enasidenib, ivosidenib, and gilteritinib. Despite these advancements, the only current curative approach remains allogeneic transplantation and only for those minority of patients that are candidates. However, encouraging results are being seen with a multitude of novel small molecular inhibitors and immunotherapeutic approaches currently in clinical trials both as single agents and combination strategies in both upfront and relapsed/refractory AML.
Summary: Continued advancements in the knowledge of various mechanisms of relapse and resistance in AML are ongoing, leading to the realization that diverse treatment strategies are needed to both prevent and manage relapsed and refractory disease.