ADMIRE was a multicenter, randomized-controlled, open, phase IIB superiority trial in previously untreated chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Conventional front-line therapy in fit patients is fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab (FCR). Initial evidence from non-randomized phase II trials suggested that the addition of mitoxantrone to FCR (FCM-R) improved remission rates. Two hundred and fifteen patients were recruited to assess the primary end point of complete remission (CR) rates according to International Workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia criteria. Secondary end points were progression-free survival (PFS), overall survival (OS), overall response rate, minimal residual disease (MRD) negativity and safety. At final analysis, CR rates were 69.8 FCR vs 69.3% FCM-R (adjusted odds ratio (OR): 0.97; 95% confidence interval (CI): (0.53–1.79), P = 0.932). MRD-negativity rates were 59.3 FCR vs 50.5% FCM-R (adjusted OR: 0.70; 95% CI: (0.39–1.26), P = 0.231). During treatment, 60.0% (n = 129) of participants received granulocyte colony-stimulating factor as secondary prophylaxis for neutropenia, a lower proportion on FCR compared with FCM-R (56.1 vs 63.9%). The toxicity of both regimens was acceptable. There are no significant differences between the treatment groups for PFS and OS. The trial demonstrated that the addition of mitoxantrone to FCR did not increase the depth of response. Oral FCR was well tolerated and resulted in impressive responses in terms of CR rates and MRD negativity compared with historical series with intravenous chemotherapy.