Infectious diseases are a leading cause of global human mortality. The use of antimicrobials remains the most common strategy for treatment. However, the isolation of pathogens resistant to virtually all antimicrobials makes it urgent to develop effective therapeutics based on new targets. Here we review a new drug discovery paradigm focusing on identifying and targeting host factors important for infection as well as pathogen determinants involved in disease progression. We summarize innovative strategies which by combining bioinformatics with transcriptomics and chemical genetics have already identified host factors essential for pathogen entry, survival and replication. We describe how the discovery of RNA interference which allows loss-of-function studies has facilitated functional genomic studies in human cells. It is expected that these studies will identify targets to be used as host-directed drug therapy which, together with antimicrobials targeting microbial virulence factors, will efficiently eliminate the invading pathogen.