Optimum efficacy is the primary goal for any cancer therapy, and entails controlling tumour growth and prolonging survival as far as possible. The prognosis for patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) has greatly improved with the introduction of targeted therapies. This review examines the development and efficacy of targeted agents for the management of mRCC, the challenges offered by their rapid emergence, and discusses how mRCC treatment may evolve in the future. Improvements in progression-free survival and overall survival rates, observed with targeted agents, indicate that it may now be possible to change mRCC from a rapidly fatal and largely untreatable condition into a chronic disease. The major challenges to further advances in targeted therapy for mRCC include overcoming drug resistance, identifying the most effective sequence or combination of targeted agents, optimising clinical trial design and managing the cost of treatment.