BACKGROUND: Despite the toll of tropical parasitic diseases on human life in the developing world, present therapies still rely on drugs developed decades ago. In many cases, the clinical usefulness of these compounds is limited due to poor efficacy, toxicity and the constant attrition of drug resistance. The absence of a profit incentive regarding diseases afflicting the very poor has resulted in a lack of investment by the pharmaceutical industry in new chemotherapies. OBJECTIVE: Given this background, this review addresses what alternative economic and scientific strategies have been implemented to procure novel drugs. METHODS: The latest chemical, genetic and screening technologies to discover and develop drugs for tropical parasitic diseases are reviewed. In many cases these strategies are being implemented within the framework of public-private partnerships established to sustain dynamic drug development portfolios. Examples of public-private partnerships and their portfolios are discussed. Further, the contribution of dedicated academic screening centres to target discovery and preclinical prosecution of new small molecules is also highlighted. In every case, the latest scientific literature is cited, but also relevant press releases and website information to indicate the present vitality in the field. CONCLUSION: The tools, institutions and consortia are now in place and evolving to deliver new pharmaceuticals. Short-term results have already been realised in the clinic, mainly through the provision of new formulations of existing drugs. Long-term and consistent investment will be required, however, to identify, develop and clinically validate new chemical entities.