Expanding Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Options

Chronic myeloid leukemia drug therapies researched

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Research into more effective treatments for chronic myeloid leukemia is opening up all sorts of possibilities. Drugs are being combined, new drugs are being developed and there is even work involving a possible vaccine.

Patients living with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) have three excellent drug therapies to choose from at this point - Gleevec (imatinib), Sprycel (dasatinib) and Tasigna (nilotinib). These are all tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) that have changed the treatment paradigm for CML.

Still, new therapies are being researched that hold the promise of advancing the possibility of one day curing this disease.

"If you're living with CML, you have a number of treatment options."

Combining therapies 

Gleevec and other TKIs that target the protein BCR-ABL have revolutionized CML treatment, but don't help everybody. Ongoing research is focusing on combining these drugs with other treatments such as chemotherapy, interferon or cancer vaccines (under study - see below). The theory is that the combined approach may help those who don't respond well to a single drug therapy. 

One recent study found that combining interferon (a class of drugs that boost the immune system) with Gleevec worked better than giving Gleevec alone. However, the combination of the two drugs resulted in additional problematic side effects. While promising, research continues to determine if this approach is more beneficial than other TKIs, including Sprycel and Tasigna. 

Other research is examining the effectiveness of various types of treatments combined with stem cell transplants.

New drugs under development

Scientists now know that the bcr-abl gene is a primary cause of CML. Drugs are currently being tested in clinical trials that target bcr-abl.

It's also known that patients who don't respond to the standard TKIs sometimes have a change in the bcr-abl gene that's known as a T315I mutation. This mutation seems to cause the resistance against the current targeted therapies. New drugs that block the T315I are being tested.

Another class of drugs called farnesyl transferase inhibitors are also emerging as possible CML treatments. These medications, Sarasar (lonafarnib) and Zarnestra (tipifarnib), seem to work against CML. Some patients may have better results when these drugs can be combined with Gleevec.


Also on the horizon are cancer vaccines that may be effective against CML. The theory here is to find a way to encourage the body's own immune system to attack cancer cells.

Research is currently being conducted to test several vaccines. One such experimental vaccine called CMLVAX100 was combined with Gleevec. The vaccine seemed to increase the effectiveness of Gleevec.

For CML patients, this research expands treatment alternatives for a disease that's becoming easier to live with.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 22, 2011
Last Updated:
November 8, 2012