How are different drugs named

How do drugs get their name?

There are two names on every drug pack: the trade name of the drug and the name of the active ingredient it contains. Several people are always involved in determining both names: in the case of the active ingredient name, this is the manufacturer together with the World Health Organization (WHO), in the case of the trade name, this is the manufacturer and the Name Review Group the EU Medicines Agency EMA. The primary goal of the WHO and EMA is a naming system that is as coherent as possible and involves as little risk of confusion as possible.

An active ingredient name is determined
When a company has invented a new active ingredient, it can suggest a name for it to the responsible WHO committee. A whole series of rules must be observed, all of which aim to ensure that the name of another active ingredient is not too similar. If there is already another active ingredient from the same active ingredient class ("ie the same mode of action and similar molecular structure"), the new active ingredient must adopt the ending for this class. For example, the first active ingredient that was able to curb gastric acid production by blocking the so-called proton pumps was given the name omeprazole. Other active ingredients that also work in this way were then named lansoprazole, pantoprazole, rabeprazole and esomeprazole.

There are additional requirements for some active ingredients. In the case of monoclonal antibodies, the last three letters are reserved for the ending "mab" (for "monoclonal antibody"), and the letters in front for information on the area of ​​application (e.g. "li" or "lim" for immunomodulator) and the antibody type ("u "For" human, human "," xi "for" chimeric "). When naming the active ingredient adalimumab, which is aimed against rheumatoid arthritis, for example, only the “Ada” was not already stipulated by regulations.

There are also active ingredients that have been put together from an antibody section and another protein. Such active ingredients must always have the ending “cept” - such as the active ingredient etanercept, which is used against various immune diseases.

Active substances whose names end in “mycin” or “sporin” are based on substances from fungi or bacteria - such as the antibiotic clarithromycin or the immunosuppressant ciclosporin.

First of all, the WHO puts forward suggestions for new active substance names for discussion. These are then published as the final active ingredient names, taking into account any comments. Small adjustments to different languages ​​are permitted. For example, active ingredient names that end with “in” in German are supplemented with an “e” in English. For example, the active ingredient cetirizine used against hay fever becomes a cetirizine.


Trade names
For the design of the trade name, the companies initially have more leeway, as long as they do not make excessive promises: A name like “Never sick” or “Bessermittel” would be unacceptable. Before a new name can be used, the Name Review Group approved by the European Medicines Agency EMA. This is critical: at its meetings every two months, it rejects around 50% of the suggestions - mostly because it sees a risk of confusion with drugs that are already on the market.


Downright unspeakable?
Active ingredient names are primarily used for communication among experts. In case of doubt, it is more important for them to take important information from the name than to be able to pronounce it effortlessly. In the case of product names, on the other hand, companies seek a balance between different properties that do not always point in the same direction: the name should be memorable and not sound random, it should not arouse negative associations or associations that are inappropriate to the seriousness of the disease and should also be easy to pronounce in as many countries as possible be. That is not at all easy, given the more than 20 languages ​​in the EU! This is why sometimes pharmaceutical companies seek advice from specialized naming agencies. But even then, sometimes an extraordinary name was created only at the price that it is not easy to pronounce.