Most of the time, programmed cell death (apoptosis) is a good thing, part of the normal adjustments an organism needs to make. But problems arise when cells that are not supposed to die undergo apoptosis, for example, in neurodegenerative diseases. Conversely, cells that are supposed to die, but do not, can be a problem, as in cancer.

With a large repertoire of genes involved in regulating apoptosis at its disposal, Idun Pharmaceuticals Inc. is developing small molecules either to stimulate or interfere with the process of cell death. Shortly after being founded, Idun consolidated licenses to apoptosis genes by merging with another startup, Apoptech Inc. That merger also simplified financing by presenting a single apoptosis story to potential investors.