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Where Drug Names Come From

January 19, 2012 Comments off

Where Drug Names Come From
Source: Chemical & Engineering News

It isn’t every day that a molecular moniker is on the docket at Illinois’ Cook County Circuit Court. But then, the 2002 case of cis-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide was most unusual.

The trouble wasn’t with the compound’s International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry-approved name. It was that cis-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide also happens to be a medication. Drug molecules get an additional, simpler name called a nonproprietary name or generic name. Winston Pharmaceuticals, a company that develops products based on cis-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, sought to change that molecule’s generic name, which an independent body had chosen in-line with decades of drug-naming conventions. If the case went Winston’s way, more than a name on a box would have been at stake.

Drug naming rarely involves drama. But this example illuminates a little-talked-about layer in drug development, one that affects doctors, pharmacists, and patients.
Unlike IUPAC-sanctioned chemical names, generic names usually describe a drug’s physiological function rather than its chemical structure. Today’s regimented generic-naming process got its start in the 1960s, a time when drugs had grown complex in structure and IUPAC names had grown to unwieldy lengths. In 1961, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, and the American Pharmacists Association created the U.S. Adopted Names (USAN) Council to select concise generic names. The Food & Drug Administration joined the effort in 1967.

Today, the USAN Council names the active ingredients in drugs, biologics, vaccines, and even contact lenses and sunscreens. The council recommends names to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Nonproprietary Names (INN) program, which ultimately chooses a single name for each new drug that’s acceptable worldwide. For drugmakers, obtaining a generic name is a required part of bringing new products to market. Choosing a brand, or trade, name is an entirely separate process.

+ Official list of generic drug name stems from the US Adopted Names Council (PDF)

See: How Drugs Get Those Tongue-Twisting Generic Names (Science Daily)

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