How Drugs Are Named

History Of Drug Names

The people behind the creation of over-the-counter and prescription drugs are not allowed to name their pharmaceutical inventions on a whim. In fact, a rather in-depth process ensues to determine what each drug will eventually be named.

The people behind the creation of over-the-counter and prescription drugs are not allowed to name their pharmaceutical inventions on a whim.

The chemists behind the discovery or creation of new pharmaceuticals often have a minimal, if any, hand at all in their naming. Many drug companies instead hire high-dollar marketing and advertising agencies to come up with a brand new name for each drug they ultimately sell to the public.

In the earliest days of drug creation and manufacturing, chemists would typically register the drug with a set of initials followed by a numerical series to indicate what the drug was and from what it comprised. Today, the process is geared more toward marketing drugs to the public and ensuring people remember the drugs’ names so they can ask for and buy the specific ones they want at the pharmacy or retail store.

The naming process for drugs today is designed to ensure pharmaceuticals do not sound the same as other names of other prescription or OTC drugs. However, some medications do end up with similar-sounding names, which can cause confusion among patients with certain health concerns.

The naming of drugs today is also designed to ensure medications do not end up with names that infer superiority over others that are similar or identical to them. Overall, the naming process for new drugs can take as long as four years and require revisions along the way.

Generic Drugs

The naming of generic drugs became prevalent in the 1950s as more people across the world began to travel internationally. It become vital for people, regardless of what country they travel to, can have access to medications with names doctors and pharmacists can recognize and understand for what purpose they are used.

The naming of generic drugs became prevalent in the 1950s as more people across the world began to travel internationally.

Two entities are responsible for naming generic drugs in the U.S.: the World Health Organization INN Programme and the United States Adopted Names Council. Both work together to name generics that are both relatively easy for people to pronounce and remember and reflect on what drugs are made or for what purpose they are used. The generic names of drugs must also follow the Roman alphabet so they are universally recognizable.

The naming process applies a family name or suffix to the drug in question that details what the drug does specifically in the human body. The creative name assigned to the drug that will precede the suffix takes into account the drug’s ingredients.

The naming process also must abide by certain rules, such as:

  • Containing at least two syllables in the prefix
  • Avoiding the use of marketing to denote superiority or inclusion of a brand name
  • Avoiding the letters Y, H, J, KA and W because they are not included in the Roman alphabet
  • Avoiding medical terminology that indicates a drug may only be used for one condition

The naming entities must also submit the names of new drugs to the public for consideration. If the public objects to the names, they must be revised.

Branding

The process of branding drugs likewise entails an in-depth and sometimes contentious process. Drug manufacturers must ultimately decide to whom and how they want to market their drug brands to the public.

Brand names fall to the manufacturers to come up with and determine what names would be best to use to sell to patients. Many manufacturers hire premier advertising and marketing agencies to come up with brand names for their drugs.

Brand names fall to the manufacturers to come up with and determine what names would be best to use to sell to patients.

People behind the creation of drug brand names must determine to whom, exactly, they are marketing these products. Do they want physicians to take more note of the new drugs, or do they want drug names to appeal more to patients?

If the brand naming professionals determine they want to market to physicians, they might create names that revolve more around the pharmaceutical makeup of the drugs being named. Physicians typically appreciate more being able to tell what a drug is used for and what it is made up of before prescribing it to patients.

However, if brand-naming professionals decide to market to patients, they may decide to make the names of drugs more creative and mentally appealing. They may use letter combinations to denote positive words like “victory.” They may also use names that sound similar to song lyrics that people can easily remember when they go to the doctor or pharmacy.

Patent Protection

Companies that create new drugs can apply for and obtain patents for them. Specifically, the patents can be used to:

  • The actual name and ownership of the drug
  • The drug’s pharmacological makeup
  • The manner in how the drug is used
  • How the drug is introduced to the human body

Patents for new drugs are typically valid for up to 20 years. During that time, the drug manufacturer can determine how to name, brand and market its products to the public. No other drug competitor can lay claim to the patented drugs during that time.

However, once the patents expire, other companies can replicate and sell these products under other names. They cannot use the name of the drug that was initially patented.

These other companies may decide to sell the drugs under generic names and make them available for less money than for what the original patented drug was sold. They may also decide to sell them under another brand name.

Whether or not drug companies decide to replicate and sell formerly patented drugs can depend on a number of factors. For example, the original branded medication may be too costly for a company to replicate and sell. The company may also be unable to pay for studies to show the replicated generic is just as effective as the original product.

The demand for the original product may also be so low that other drug companies find no market for generics. The drug may be used to treat rare conditions that only affect a small portion of the population.

Laws and Guidelines

Drug manufacturers and branding companies must follow numerous laws and guidelines when naming drugs. These rules ensure the universal recognition, in part, of the drugs being named. They also ensure physicians and patients have realistic expectations of the drugs and avoid promoting the manufacturer or conditions for which they were originally created to treat.

Drug manufacturers and branding companies must follow numerous laws and guidelines when naming drugs.

Name recognition and pronunciation are two of the primary factors that go into the drugs being named. To ensure most people across the globe can pronounce at least the generic names for them, naming entities use the Roman alphabet from which to derive names. With that, the letters J, K, H, Y and W will not be used in generics’ names.

Branding companies are not allowed to promote manufacturers when naming drugs. They cannot put some or all of the manufacturer’s name in the brand name for the products. They also cannot indicate the drugs are the best or superior to others with the design of their names.

Despite some drugs being designed to treat one or two specific conditions, scientists may discover they can be used for other conditions later. Drug naming entities must avoid creating names that indicate the drugs can only be used to treat just one or two conditions to ensure patients do not become confused or worried about taking medications.

Finally, drug names cannot contain medical terminology. This rule ensures physicians can remain transparent with patients and patients can better understand what their medications do.

Examples

The rules, guidelines, and processes involved in naming drugs can be found in the names given to some of today’s most marketed medications. Take, for example, Viagra, which is a well-known medication prescribed for erectile dysfunction.

This medication is best known by its marketed brand name, Viagra. However, its generic name is sildenafil or sildenafil citrate.

Its family name is -afil, which indicates it the medication is used as an inhibitor in the bloodstream and helps control the flow of blood. It prefix name, -silden, comes from the creative process of differentiating this drug from other similar or identical drugs used for the same purpose. These other drugs include Cialis, which has a generic name of tadalafil, Levitra and Staxyn, sold under the generic name of vardenafil, and avenafil, which is branded as Stendra.

All of these generic names have at least two syllables in their prefix names. They also have the same family name of -afil to indicate what impact they have within the human body. They likewise do not promote a certain company or use medical terminology.

Despite being used to treat erectile dysfunction in males, these medications are also used for other health conditions. With that, their names do not reflect a sole purpose of treating ED.

Doctors may actually prescribe -afil drugs to treat hypertension or high blood pressure in both males and females. They may also prescribe Viagra or any of its generics to treat heart failure in patients.

Conclusion

The naming of drugs is a complex process that involves many factors, including the drug’s composition, purpose, and target audience. The World Health Organization INN Programme and the United States Adopted Names Council assign names to generic drugs, while drug manufacturers are responsible for branding the drugs.

The naming process must follow strict laws and guidelines to ensure universal recognition and understanding of the drugs, while avoiding promoting the manufacturer or limiting the use of the drugs to specific conditions.

References

  1. https://www.pfizer.com/news/articles/ever_wonder_how_drugs_are_named_read_on
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4188646/
  3. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/25/health/art-of-drug-naming/index.html
  4. https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-04/fyi-how-does-drug-get-its-name/
  5. https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-gb/home/drugs/brand-name-and-generic-drugs/overview-of-generic-drugs-and-drug-naming 

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