Gene therapy and stem cell transplantation safety could be enhanced by control over the fate of therapeutic cells. Suicide gene therapy uses enzymes that convert prodrugs to cytotoxic entities; however, heterologous moieties with poor kinetics are employed. We describe a novel enzyme/prodrug combination for selectively inducing apoptosis in lentiviral vector-transduced cells. Rationally designed variants of human thymidylate kinase (tmpk) that effectively phosphorylate 3′-azido-3′-deoxythymidine (AZT) were efficiently delivered. Transduced Jurkat cell lines were eliminated by AZT. We demonstrate that this schema targeted both dividing and non-dividing cells, with a novel killing mechanism involving apoptosis induction via disruption of the mitochondrial inner membrane potential and activation of caspase-3. Primary murine and human T cells were also transduced and responded to AZT. Furthermore, low-dose AZT administration to non-obese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficiency (NOD/SCID) mice injected with transduced K562 cells suppressed tumor growth. This novel suicide gene therapy approach can thus be integrated as a safety switch into therapeutic vectors.