Pioneering gene therapy trials have shown that the genetic engineering of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells can be an alternative to allogeneic transplantation in the treatment of primary immunodeficiencies. Early trials also highlighted the risk of insertional mutagenesis and oncogene transactivation associated with the first generation of gammaretroviral vectors. These events prompted the development of safer, self-inactivating lentiviral or gammaretroviral vectors. These lentiviral vectors have been successfully used to treat over 200 patients with 10 different haematological disorders (including primary immunodeficiencies, haemoglobinopathies and metabolic disorders) and for the generation of chimeric antigen receptor-T cells for cancer therapy. However, several challenges, such as effective reconstitution during inflammation, remain if gene therapy is to be extended to more complex diseases in which haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells can be altered by the disease environment. We discuss the progress made and future challenges for gene therapy and contrast gene therapy with gene-editing strategies.