The rise of antimicrobial resistance, coupled with a lack of industrial focus on antimicrobial discovery over preceding decades, has brought the world to a crisis point. With both human and animal health set to decline due to increased disease burdens caused by near untreatable microbial pathogens, there is an urgent need to identify new antimicrobials. Central to this is the elucidation of new, robustly validated, drug targets. Informed by industrial practice and concerns, the use of both biological and chemical tools in validation is key. In parallel, repurposing approved drugs for use as antimicrobials may provide both new treatments and identify new targets, whilst improved understanding of pharmacology will help develop and progress good ‘hits’ with the required rapidity. In recognition of the need to increase research efforts in these areas, in 14–16 September 2017, the British Society for Parasitology (BSP) Autumn Symposium was hosted at Durham University with the title: Microbial Protein Targets: towards understanding and intervention. Staged in collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Chemistry Biology Interface Division (CBID), the core aim was to bring together leading researchers working across disciplines to imagine novel approaches towards combating infection and antimicrobial resistance. Sessions were held on: ‘Anti-infective discovery, an overview’; ‘Omic approaches to target validation’; ‘Genetic approaches to target validation’; ‘Drug target structure and drug discovery’; ‘Fragment-based approaches to drug discovery’; and ‘Chemical approaches to target validation’. Here, we introduce a series of review and primary research articles from selected contributors to the Symposium, giving an overview of progress in understanding antimicrobial targets and developing new drugs. The Symposium was organized by Paul Denny (Durham) for the BSP and Patrick Steel (Durham) for RSC CBID.