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Lenvatinib (Lenvima™) is a multitargeted receptor kinase inhibitor that inhibits the kinase activities of vascular endothelial-derived growth factor receptors 1, 2 and 3, fibroblast growth factor receptors 1, 2, 3 and 4, platelet-derived growth factor receptor α, RET and KIT. In addition to their role in normal cellular function, these kinases have been implicated in pathogenic angiogenesis, tumour growth and cancer progression. Lenvatinib is being developed by Eisai Co. Ltd for the treatment of solid tumours, primarily for differentiated thyroid cancer, and other malignancies. A capsule formulation of the drug has received approval in the USA for use in locally recurrent or metastatic, progressive, radioactive iodine-refractory differentiated thyroid cancer. Lenvatinib is in pre-registration for this indication in the EU, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland, and is in phase 3 development in Argentina, Chile and Thailand. Lenvatinib has orphan designation in the EU and Japan for use in differentiated thyroid cancer. In addition, an ongoing global, phase 3 trial is evaluating the use of lenvatinib as first-line treatment in unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma. This article summarizes the milestones in the development of lenvatinib leading to this first approval in locally recurrent or metastatic, progressive, radioactive iodine-refractory differentiated thyroid cancer.