Drug resistance is a common cause of treatment failure for HIV infection and cancer. The high mutation rate of HIV leads to genetic heterogeneity among viral populations and provides the seed from which drug-resistant clones emerge in response to therapy. Similarly, most cancers are characterized by extensive genetic, epigenetic, transcriptional and cellular diversity, and drug-resistant cancer cells outgrow their non-resistant peers in a process of somatic evolution. Patient-specific combination of antiviral drugs has emerged as a powerful approach for treating drug-resistant HIV infection, using genotype-based predictions to identify the best matched combination therapy among several hundred possible combinations of HIV drugs. In this Opinion article, we argue that HIV therapy provides a 'blueprint' for designing and validating patient-specific combination therapies in cancer.