Over the past few years, a number of anticancer drugs have been developed that specifically target kinases known to be oncogenic. The leading drug in this area is imatinib mesylate, which targets ABL, KIT and PDGFR. It has been remarkably effective in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia, although resistance remains a significant problem. From the imatinib experience in this setting, we present some principles of kinase inhibition that may have more general applicability in targeted anticancer therapy. It is clear that the identification of appropriate targets (activated kinases) and monitoring levels of response (to recognise emerging resistance) are essential to optimise clinical management.