Drug resistance is a major hurdle in oncology. Responses of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) patients to cytarabine (Ara-C)-based therapies are often short lived with a median overall survival of months1,2,3,4. Therapies are under development to improve outcomes and include targeting the eukaryotic translation initiation factor (eIF4E) with its inhibitor ribavirin5,6,7. In a Phase II clinical trial in poor prognosis AML5, ribavirin monotherapy yielded promising responses including remissions; however, all patients relapsed. Here we identify a novel form of drug resistance to ribavirin and Ara-C. We observe that the sonic hedgehog transcription factor glioma-associated protein 1 (GLI1) and the UDP glucuronosyltransferase (UGT1A) family of enzymes are elevated in resistant cells. UGT1As add glucuronic acid to many drugs, modifying their activity in diverse tissues8. GLI1 alone is sufficient to drive UGT1A-dependent glucuronidation of ribavirin and Ara-C, and thus drug resistance. Resistance is overcome by genetic or pharmacological inhibition of GLI1, revealing a potential strategy to overcome drug resistance in some patients.