Acute myeloid leukemia: Treatment and research outlook for 2021 and the MD Anderson approach

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The unraveling of the pathophysiology of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has resulted in rapid translation of the information into clinical practice. After more than 40 years of slow progress in AML research, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved nine agents for different AML treatment indications since 2017. In this review, we detail the progress that has been made in the research and treatment of AML, citing key publications related to AML research and therapy in the English literature since 2000. The notable subsets of AML include acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), core-binding factor AML (CBF-AML), AML in younger patients fit for intensive chemotherapy, and AML in older/unfit patients (usually at the age cutoff of 60-70 years). We also consider within each subset whether the AML is primary or secondary (therapy-related, evolving from untreated or treated myelodysplastic syndrome or myeloproliferative neoplasm). In APL, therapy with all-trans retinoic acid and arsenic trioxide results in estimated 10-year survival rates of ≥80%. Treatment of CBF-AML with fludarabine, high-dose cytarabine, and gemtuzumab ozogamicin (GO) results in estimated 10-year survival rates of ≥75%. In younger/fit patients, the “3+7” regimen (3 days of daunorubicin + 7 days of cytarabine) produces less favorable results (estimated 5-year survival rates of 35%; worse in real-world experience); regimens that incorporate high-dose cytarabine, adenosine nucleoside analogs, and GO are producing better results. Adding venetoclax, FLT3, and IDH inhibitors into these regimens has resulted in encouraging preliminary data. In older/unfit patients, low-intensity therapy with hypomethylating agents (HMAs) and venetoclax is now the new standard of care. Better low-intensity regimens incorporating cladribine, low-dose cytarabine, and other targeted therapies (FLT3 and IDH inhibitors) are emerging. Maintenance therapy now has a definite role in the treatment of AML, and oral HMAs with potential treatment benefits are also available. In conclusion, AML therapy is evolving rapidly and treatment results are improving in all AML subsets as novel agents and strategies are incorporated into traditional AML chemotherapy. LAY SUMMARY: Ongoing research in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is progressing rapidly. Since 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved 10 drugs for different AML indications. This review updates the research and treatment pathways for AML.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1186-1207
Number of pages22
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2021


  • acute myelogenous leukemia
  • new drugs
  • progress
  • research
  • therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Acute myeloid leukemia: Treatment and research outlook for 2021 and the MD Anderson approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this