The gene encoding the receptor-Tyrosine kinase RET was first discovered more than three decades ago, and activating RET rearrangements and mutations have since been identified as actionable drivers of oncogenesis. Several multikinase inhibitors with activity against RET have been explored in the clinic, and confirmed responses to targeted therapy with these agents have been observed in patients with RET-rearranged lung cancers or RET-mutant thyroid cancers. Nevertheless, response rates to RET-directed therapy are modest compared with those achieved using targeted therapies matched to other oncogenic drivers of solid tumours, such as sensitizing EGFR or BRAFV600E mutations, or ALK or ROS1 rearrangements. To date, no RET-directed targeted therapeutic has received regulatory approval for the treatment of molecularly defined populations of patients with RET-mutant or RET-rearranged solid tumours. In this Review, we discuss how emerging data have informed the debate over whether the limited success of multikinase inhibitors with activity against RET can be attributed to the tractability of RET as a drug target or to the lack, until 2017, of highly specific inhibitors of this oncoprotein in the clinic. We emphasize that novel approaches to targeting RET-dependent tumours are necessary to improve the clinical efficacy of single-Agent multikinase inhibition and, thus, hasten approvals of RET-directed targeted therapies.