Heart failure is a devastating condition, the progression of which culminates in a mismatch of oxygen supply and demand, with limited options for treatment. Heart failure has several underlying causes including, but not limited to, ischaemic heart disease, valvular dysfunction, and hypertensive heart disease. Dysfunctional blood vessel formation is a major problem in advanced heart failure, regardless of the aetiology. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is the cornerstone cytokine involved in the formation of new vessels. A multitude of investigations, at both the preclinical and clinical levels, have garnered valuable information on the potential utility of targeting VEGF as a treatment option for heart failure. However, clinical trials of VEGF gene therapy in patients with coronary artery disease or peripheral artery disease have not, to date, demonstrated clinical benefit. In this Review, we outline the biological characterization of VEGF, and examine the evidence for its potential therapeutic application, including the novel concept of VEGF as adjuvant therapy to stem cell transplantation, in patients with heart failure.