Irinotecan (IRT) is an important part of the first- and second-line regimen for metastatic colorectal and some other cancers. However, IRT suffers the constraints of pH-dependent conversion of active lactone form to inactive carboxylate form, burst release owing to its aqueous solubility, short half-life and dose-dependent side effects. In this study, we developed polymeric nanoparticles (NPs) that not only deliver IRT to tumor sites, but also overcome its drawbacks by preserving active lactone conformation, prolonging the plasma circulation time, and by providing sustained release. IRT complex was rendered hydrophobic by ion-pairing with anions (docusate sodium, sodium lauryl sulfate, and sodium tripolyphosphate), and loaded in PEG-PLGA NPs via water/oil/water double emulsification method. The NPs were spherical, ˜60 nm, monodispersed, and had shell-core morphology. They retained >80% lactone form for more than 1 month of storage and exhibited sustained release characteristics. In addition, sub −100 nm size of NPs offered elevated cellular internalization. Owing to the presence of hydrophilic PEG outer layer and drug-loaded hydrophobic PLGA core, NPs conferred excellent plasma stability and prolonged the retention time of IRT by more than 10-fold as compared to free IRT. Therefore, this system could provide an excellent platform for efficient and sustained delivery of IRT and similar labile drugs to the tumor site, while maintaining their chemical integrity.