Caspases play a critical role in the execution of metazoan apoptosis and are thus attractive therapeutic targets for apoptosis-associated diseases. Here we report that baculovirus P49, a homolog of pancaspase inhibitor P35, prevents apoptosis in invertebrates by inhibiting an initiator caspase that is P35 insensitive. Consequently P49 blocked proteolytic activation of effector caspases at a unique step upstream from that affected by P35 but downstream from inhibitor of apoptosis Op-IAP. Like P35, P49 was cleaved by and stably associated with its caspase target. Ectopically expressed P49 blocked apoptosis in cultured cells from a phylogenetically distinct organism, Drosophila melanogaster. Furthermore, P49 inhibited human caspase-9, demonstrating its capacity to affect a vertebrate initiator caspase. Thus, P49 is a substrate inhibitor with a novel in vivo specificity for a P35-insensitive initiator caspase that functions at an evolutionarily conserved step in the caspase cascade. These data indicate that activated initiator caspases provide another effective target for apoptotic intervention by substrate inhibitors.