Effective therapy of high-risk leukemia with established cytotoxic drugs may be limited by poor antitumor efficacy, systemic toxicity, and the induction of drug resistance. Here, we provide the first evidence that hydrolytically activated prodrugs may overcome these problems. For this purpose, VP16 was functionally blocked by hydrolytically cleavable carbonate linkers with unique characteristics to generate 2 novel prodrugs of VP16. First, we established a more than 3-log higher efficacy of the 2 prodrugs compared with VP16 on a panel of naturally drug-resistant tumor cell lines. Second, the prodrugs did overcome VP16-induced multidrug resistance-1 gene (MDR-1)-mediated multidrug resistance in vitro in a newly established VP16-resistant T-cell leukemia cell line MOVP-3 by functionally blocking MDR-1-mediated efflux. Third, in vivo studies showed a maximum tolerated dose of ProVP16-II (> 45mg/kg), which was at least 3-fold higher than that of VP16 (15 mg/kg). Finally, tests of ProVP16-II in a multidrug-resistant xenograft model of T-cell leukemia expressing MDR-1 indicated that only the mice treated with this prodrug revealed a complete and long-lasting regression of established, drug-resistant leukemia. In summary, the hydrolytically activated etoposide prodrugs proved effective against multidrug-resistant T-cell leukemia in vitro and in vivo and provide proof of concept for a highly promising new strategy for the treatment of MDR-1 drug-resistant malignancies.