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Chemical Structure

Just the facts

Physical Information

Name: Calicheamicin, Mylotarg®, Gemtuzumab Ozogamicin

Use: Treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia

Source: Natural product of bacteria found in caliche clay

Recommended daily intake: Varies from patient to patient

Absorption: Administered intravenously (long elimination half-life)

Sensitive individuals: fetus, children, some adults


Regulatory facts: Safety and efficacy trials conducted

General facts: Approved by the FDA May 17, 2000

Environmental: Calicheamicin is a natural metabolic product of bacteria

Related chemotherapy agents: Mylotarg is a "first in class" antibody-targeted chemotherapy agent

Recommendations: Mylotarg® must be prescribed and administered by an experienced physician



Calicheamicin was discovered in 1981 (or 1987) by a scientist from Lederle Labs (now Wyeth) while on vacation in Kerrville, Texas (Other sources site Waco, Texas). The scientist collected a soil sample, which consisted of caliche clay, and sent it back to the lab for testing. Scientists grew a culture of the soil sample and found tiny bacteria within the sample produced a compound called "calicheamicin". Calicheamicin was found to be an incredibly potent cytotoxic agent and worked by destroying the DNA of cancer cells. Calicheamicin was so potent that it also destroyed the DNA of normal cells (1,000 to 10,000 times more cytotoxic to normal cells than drugs already on the market)..

Dr. George Ellestad, Dr. Janis Upeslacis and Dr. Philip Hamann (Wyeth) began studying calicheamicin in order to better understand its mechanism. Together, they devised a plan to link calicheamicin to an antibody that specifically targeted cancer cells. In this way, they were able to keep calicheamicin from destroying normal cells because the antibody linker served as a "by pass" taking calicheamicin directly to the Cancer cell.

The FDA approved this new antibody-linked calicheamicin (Mylotarg) on May 17, 2000, almost 20 years after its discovery. Mylotarg is the very first drug in its class (antibody-targeted chemotherapy agents) and is used in the treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia. Remission rates of greater than 30% have been reported (Clinical Trials).

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