The traditional regulatory drug approval paradigm comprising discrete phases of clinical testing that culminate in a large randomized superiority trial has historically been predominant in oncology. However, this approach has evolved in the current era of drug development, with multiple other development pathways now being utilized. Indeed, treatment approaches designed on the basis of an improved understanding of cancer biology have led to unprecedented responses in early phase trials, sometimes resulting in drug approvals in the absence of large-scale trials. At the same time, improved molecular diagnostic technologies have led to the identification of ever-smaller patient subgroups for molecularly targeted therapy. Moreover, new FDA regulatory paradigms have enabled the rapid review and accelerated approval of certain drugs in the absence of survival data. Regulatory approvals based on large-cohort trials with surrogate or intermediate clinical end points or on non-inferiority trials, as well as new tumour-agnostic indications, also set important precedents in the field. In this Viewpoint, we asked two leading oncologists involved in clinical drug development, an expert in regulatory science and prescription drug policy and a prominent patient advocate, to provide their opinions on the implications of these changes in regulatory practices for patient care.