Renal failure involves a significant impairment of the essential functions of the kidney, which can be either acute with sudden and rapid onset (acute renal failure [ARF]) or chronic with gradual onset (chronic renal failure [CRF]). ARF, if detected early, may be halted or reversed, whereas CRF is generally irreversible. Without treatment or intervention, both forms of renal failure lead to end stage renal failure (ESRF) or end stage renal disease (ESRD), requiring renal replacement therapy (RRT) in the form of dialysis or renal transplantation for survival. However, provision of RRT requires expert teams working in specialised units, making therapy of patients with renal failure expensive; furthermore, RRT is complex, with its own complications. Although pharmacological interventions have shown promise in experimental models, these have not been as successful in the clinical setting (e.g., administration of atrial natriuretic peptide, low-dose dopamine). At present, drugs are administered during CRF to either reduce one of the many risk factors of CRF (e.g., angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, statins) or to deal with the consequences of CRF (e.g., erythropoietin, calcitriol). Recent evidence suggests that some of these interventions may provide further direct beneficial effects via reduction of renal inflammation. Although these interventions have greatly improved the prospects for patients suffering ESRF, the development of novel drugs and therapies with which to reduce the consequences of renal failure and ESRD remain topics of great interest. This article reviews the therapies available for the prevention and management of renal failure in adults and describes, in detail, emerging drugs and novel interventions that may soon become available for the treatment or prevention of ESRF.