Gemtuzumab ozogamicin (GO, Mylotarg) is a targeted therapeutic agent in which an anti-CD33 antibody is chemically coupled to a highly cytotoxic calicheamicin derivative through a hydrolysable linker. GO has improved the treatment outcome for a subgroup of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients, but its use is associated with severe myelosuppression and hepatotoxicity. Here, we report on a novel anti-leukemia agent, designated scFvCD33:sTRAIL, in which an anti-CD33 single chain fragment of variable regions (scFv) antibody fragment is genetically linked to soluble tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (sTRAIL). Normal CD33-positive monocytes were fully resistant to prolonged treatment with scFvCD33:sTRAIL, whereas treatment with GO resulted in substantial cytotoxicity. The activity of scFvCD33:sTRAIL towards AML cells was up to 30-fold higher than GO. The CD33-restricted anti-leukemia activity of scFvCD33:sTRAIL remained stable during prolonged storage at 37 degrees C, whereas GO showed a rapid increase in CD33-independent cytotoxicity. Moreover, scFvCD33:sTRAIL showed potent anti-leukemia activity towards CD33+ CML cells when treatment was combined with the Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitor, Gleevec. Importantly, ex vivo treatment of patient-derived CD33+ AML tumor cells with scFvCD33:sTRAIL resulted in potent apoptosis induction that was enhanced by valproic acid, mitoxantrone and 17-(Allylamino)-17-demethoxygeldanamycin (17-AAG). Taken together, scFvCD33:sTRAIL is superior to GO in terms of tumor selectivity, activity and stability, warranting its further development for the treatment of CD33-positive leukemias.