Unlike other CDKs, CDK9 does not regulate the cell cycle but promotes RNA synthesis in genetic programmes for cell growth, differentiation and viral pathogenesis. It is becoming clear that CDK9 inhibition contributes to the anticancer activity of most CDK inhibitors under clinic investigation. CDK9 was discovered in the context of HIV research because retroviruses hijack host transcription and CDK9 inhibitors might become specific antiretroviral agents, particularly as they might prevent drug resistance. Myocardial hypertrophy is a risk factor in congestive heart failure and is characterised by derepressed CDK9 activity. CDK9 inhibitors, thus, can find therapeutic application in cardiology. Although there are strong signs that CDK9 inhibition would be a useful therapeutic strategy in all three indications, the lack of selective inhibitors has so far confounded clinical development. Here we give an overview of the validity of CDK9 as a drug target and of the current knowledge of this kinase and its inhibitors.