Infectious tropical diseases have a huge effect in terms of mortality and morbidity, and impose a heavy economic burden on affected countries. These diseases predominantly affect the world’s poorest people. Currently available drugs are inadequate for the majority of these diseases, and there is an urgent need for new treatments. This Review discusses some of the challenges involved in developing new drugs to treat these diseases and highlights recent progress. While there have been notable successes, there is still a long way to go.