The activated tyrosine kinase, which arises as a result of the balanced t(9,22) translocation in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), is thought to be essential for the development of the leukemic phenotype. Recently, designer drugs have been introduced which specifically inhibit such specific kinases. Among these, STI571 (Glivec™) has entered clinical trials and shown promising activities in chronic phase (CP), accelerated phase (AP) and blast crisis (BC) as evidenced by significant hematological and cytogenetic responses in CML patients. To evaluate the effect of STI571 at the molecular level we have employed quantitative real-time PCR (RQ-PCR) to measure the amount of BCR-ABL fusion transcript in a series of 19 patients treated with STI571, either in CP(11) or in (AP)(8) of the disease for 3-9 months (median 6 months). Employing this method, which is able to detect at least one BCR-ABL+ cell in 500 000, in serial blood and bone marrow specimens we found decreases in transcript levels in 10/11 CP patients, but only in 1/8 of the AP patients. When present such decreases were gradual and became evident only after 3 months of STI571 treatment, and their kinetics in blood closely mirrored those seen in parallel marrow samples. Moreover, decreases were between 10- and 100-fold in 11/13 patients, with only two patients reaching residual disease levels below 10-2 (a 900-fold decrease). Thus, no patient reached PCR negativity. We conclude that the RQ-PCR method is a highly suitable tool for following the effect of STI571 in CML and that further validation of the method, performed in a prospective manner, will contribute significantly to the elucidation of the proper role of STI571 in CML.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia