How do prescription drugs get their name?
MINNEAPOLIS– The inside of a medicine cabinet is like a chaotic collection of the English language. Prescription and over-the-counter medications often have unique, oddly spelled names. It’s a painstaking process, with more rules than you might think.
The science behind how a pill or a spoonful of liquid can cure disease and relieve pain is baffling. This may be why the name of a drug shares the same trait
Before a drug gets its brand name – like the well-known drugs Robitussin, Claritin and Tamiflu – we need to understand their generic name, which is where things get even more confusing.
The US Adopted Name Council, which approves generic names, has standards to ensure they are simple, easy to remember, and informative. Which is funny because the first two parts rarely happen.
Take Tamiflu, which helps relieve flu symptoms. Its generic name is oseltamivir. The suffix is ”-vir”, which stands for antiviral.
Allergy medications are similar. The generic name of Claratin is loratadine and that of Zyrtec is cetirizine. The last three letters of both reflect their purpose as an antihistamine.
The prefix is often inspired by the chemical composition of the drug and several rules apply. It should be two syllables and should be unique enough not to look like other medications, to avoid medication errors.
As for the full name, some letters cannot be used because they are not in all languages; they are Y, H, K, J and W. And no marketing is allowed, like sneaking in the name of the manufacturer.
It must then be approved by USAN and then the World Health Organization. Only then comes the brand name, which often has an easier-to-understand meaning for ordinary people.
Robitussin was made by the AH Robins company and is a cough suppressant, meaning it fights coughs. Viagra, an erectile dysfunction drug, has a name that mimics the words vigor and vitality.
The key here is that it’s a name you’re more likely to remember, even if the letters still seem random.
Pfizer says a team found 200 potential brand names before an extensive review process narrowed it down to three.
It can take two or three years before the official name of a drug is decided.