As uncontrolled cell proliferation requires nucleotide biosynthesis, inhibiting enzymes that mediate nucleotide biosynthesis constitutes a rational approach to the management of oncological diseases. In practice, however, results of this strategy are mixed and thus elucidation of the mechanisms by which cancer cells evade the effect of nucleotide biosynthesis restriction is urgently needed. Here we explored the notion that intrinsic differences in cancer cell cycle velocity are important in the resistance toward inhibition of inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH) by mycophenolic acid (MPA). In short-term experiments, MPA treatment of fast-growing cancer cells effectively elicited G0/G1 arrest and provoked apoptosis, thus inhibiting cell proliferation and colony formation. Forced expression of a mutated IMPDH2, lacking a binding site for MPA but retaining enzymatic activity, resulted in complete resistance of cancer cells to MPA. In nude mice subcutaneously engrafted with HeLa cells, MPA moderately delayed tumor formation by inhibiting cell proliferation and inducing apoptosis. Importantly, we developed a lentiviral vector-based Tet-on label-retaining system that enables to identify, isolate and functionally characterize slow-cycling or so-called label-retaining cells (LRCs) in vitro and in vivo. We surprisingly found the presence of LRCs in fast-growing tumors. LRCs were superior in colony formation, tumor initiation and resistance to MPA as compared with fast-cycling cells. Thus, the slow-cycling compartment of cancer seems predominantly responsible for resistance to MPA.