Despite improvements in glycaemic and blood pressure control, and the efficacy of renin-angiotensin system (RAS) blockade for proteinuria reduction, diabetic nephropathy is the most frequent cause of end-stage renal disease in developed countries. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that key pathogenetic mechanisms leading to progression of renal disease are not modified or inactivated by current therapeutic approaches. Although extensive research has elucidated molecular signalling mechanisms that are involved in progression of diabetic kidney disease, a number of high-profile clinical trials of potentially nephroprotective agents have failed, highlighting an insufficient understanding of pathogenic pathways. These include trials of paricalcitol in early diabetic kidney disease and bardoxolone methyl in advanced-stage disease. Various strategies based on encouraging data from preclinical studies that showed renoprotective effects of receptor antagonists, neutralizing antibodies, kinase inhibitors, small compounds and peptide-based technologies are currently been tested in randomized controlled trials. Phase II clinical trials are investigating approaches targeting inflammation, fibrosis and signalling pathways. However, only one trial that aims to provide evidence for marketing approval of a potentially renoprotective drug (atrasentan) is underway-further research into the potential nephroprotective effects of novel glucose-lowering agents is required.