Oral therapy for type 2 diabetes mellitus, when used appropriately, can safely assist patients to achieve glycaemic targets in the short to medium term. However, the progressive nature of type 2 diabetes usually requires a combination of two or more oral agents in the longer term, often as a prelude to insulin therapy. Issues of safety and tolerability, notably weight gain, often limit the optimal application of anti-diabetic drugs such as sulforylureas and thiazolidinediones. Moreover, the impact of different drugs, even within a single class, on the risk of long-term vascular complications has come under scrutiny. For example, recent publication of evidence suggesting potential detrimental effects of rosiglitazone on myocardial events generated a heated debate and led to a reduction in use of this drug. In contrast, current evidence supports the view that pioglitazone has vasculoprotective properties. Both drugs are contraindicated in patients who are at risk of heart failure. An additional recently identified safety concern is an increased risk of fractures, especially in postmenopausal women. Several new drugs with glucose-lowering efficacy that may offer certain advantages have recently become available. These include (i) injectable glucagonlike peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists and oral dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors; (ii) the amylin analogue pramlintide; and (iii) selective cannabinoid receptor-1 (CB1) antagonists. GLP-1 receptor agonists, such as exenatide, stimulate nutrient-induced insulin secretion and reduce inappropriate glucagon secretion while delaying gastric emptying and reducing appetite. These agents offer a low risk of hypoglycaemia combined with sustained weight loss. The DPP-4 inhibitors sitagliptin and vildagliptin are generally weight neutral, with less marked gastrointestinal adverse effects than the GLP-1 receptor agonists. Potential benefits of GLP-1 receptor stimulation on P cell neogenesis are under investigation. Pancreatitis has been reported in exenatide-treated patients. Pramlintide, an injected peptide used in combination with insulin, can reduce insulin dose and bodyweight. The CB1 receptor antagonist rimonabant promotes weight loss and has favourable effects on aspects of the metabolic syndrome, including the hyperglycaemia of type 2 diabetes. However, in 2007 the US FDA declined approval of rimonabant, requiring more data on adverse effects, notably depression. The future of dual peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha/gamma agonists, or glitazars, is presently uncertain following concerns about their safety. In conclusion, several new classes of drugs have recently become available in some countries that offer new options for treating type 2 diabetes. Beneficial or neutral effects on bodyweight are an attractive feature of the new drugs. However, the higher cost of these agents, coupled with an absence of long-term safety and clinical outcome data, need to be taken into consideration by clinicians and healthcare organizations.