Cartilage destruction is a key characteristic of arthritic disease, a process now widely established to be mediated by metzincins such as MMPs. Despite showing promise in preclinical trials during the 1990s, MMP inhibitors for the blockade of extracellular matrix turnover in the treatment of cancer and arthritis failed clinically, primarily due to poor selectivity for target MMPs. In recent years, roles for serine proteinases in the proteolytic cascades leading to cartilage destruction have become increasingly apparent, renewing interest in the potential for new therapeutic strategies that utilize pharmacological inhibitors against this class of proteinases. Herein, we describe key serine proteinases with likely importance in arthritic disease and highlight recent advances in this field. LINKED ARTICLES: This article is part of a themed section on Translating the Matrix. To view the other articles in this section visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bph.v176.1/issuetoc. © 2018 The British Pharmacological Society.