Gene signatures of drug-induced toxicity are of broad interest, but they are often identified from small-scale, single-time point experiments, and are therefore of limited applicability. To address this issue, we performed multivariate analysis of gene expression, cell-based assays, and histopathological data in the TG-GATEs (Toxicogenomics Project-Genomics Assisted Toxicity Evaluation system) database. Data mining highlights four genes-EGR1, ATF3, GDF15 and FGF21-that are induced 2 h after drug administration in human and rat primary hepatocytes poised to eventually undergo cytotoxicity-induced cell death. Modelling and simulation reveals that these early stress-response genes form a functional network with evolutionarily conserved structure and intrinsic dynamics. This is underlined by the fact that early induction of this network in vivo predicts drug-induced liver and kidney pathology with high accuracy. Our findings demonstrate the value of early gene-expression signatures in predicting and understanding compound-induced toxicity. The identified network can empower first-line tests that reduce animal use and costs of safety evaluation.