top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureJohn Q Leonard

Pharmacology - A Primer on How Drugs are Named

Updated: Mar 17, 2020


"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a popular reference to William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her family's rival house of Montague, that is, that he is named "Montague". The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect or truly describe what they really are. Drugs are different, or at least their scientific names are meant to be anyway. Most people pay no attention to the name of the actual pharmaceutical ingredient, opting instead to memorize the marketed brand name. (Great job, marketers!) It is also handy to commit the pharmacological name to memory because these names have meaning, even if you have to decipher a code to understand them.

This post is meant to serve as an introduction to my 'Rose' blog miniseries describing how new cell and gene therapy treatments are named.

Take a walk in a convention. Learning how drugs are named will help you navigate the breadth of the field, which can be intimidating, especially in addition to the inherent depth of the pharmaceutical sciences at each distinct node of indication and modality.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a popular reference to William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her family's rival house of Montague, that is, that he is named "Montague". The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect what they really are. This formulation is, however, a paraphrase of Shakespeare's actual language. Juliet compares Romeo to a rose saying that if he were not named Romeo he would still be handsome and be Juliet's love. This states that if he were not Romeo, then he would not be a Montague and she would be able to get married with no problem at all.

To begin the discussion, here is a beginner's list of pharmacologic families of some commonly prescribed and top-selling branded drugs. Although all these are helpful to know, most of us can get by focusing of a subset of these. This beginners list of terms is a non-exhaustive primer. In fact, it's being built upon all the time. For instance, the new cell and gene therapies like Partisiran are not touched upon below, but those will be given more attention in posts to follow this one. First, we'll start with a few of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world...

The following are brand names, generic names and explanations of what the name means:

Lipitor™ (atorvastatin calcium) meaning: enzyme inhibitors

Crestor™ (rosuvastatin) stem subgroup: -vastatin meaning: inhibitors of HMG-CoA, an enzyme involved in synthesizing cholesterol

Nexium™ (esomeprazole magnesium) meaning: esomeprazole is a stereoisomer of omeprazole

Prevacid™ (lansoprazole) meaning: agents to treat ulcer and/or heartburn that are chemically related to benzimidazole

Singulair™ (montelukast) meaning: antiallergics and antiasthmatics that are leukotriene receptor antagonists

Plavix™ (clopidogrel sulfate) meaning: platelet aggregation inhibitors

Effexor XR™ (venlafaxine hydrochloride) meaning: antianxiety, antidepressant inhibitor of norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake

Cymbalta™ (duloxetine hydrochloride) meaning: antidepressants with a chemical structure related to fluoxetine

Diovan™ (valsartan) meaning: angiotensin II receptor antagonists

SLevaquin™ (levofloxacin) Meaning: antibiotics that are chemical derivatives of quinolone

Valtrex™ (valacyclovir) meaning: antiviral compounds stem subgroup: -cyclovir meaning: chemical structure is related to acyclovir

Avastin™ (bevacizumab) meaning: monoclonal antibodies stem subgroup: -zumab meaning: humanized infix: -ci- for circulatory system targets (e.g. inhibiting angiogenesis)

Remicade™ (infliximab) meaning: monoclonal antibodies stem subgroup: -ximab meaning: chimeric infix: -li- for immune system targets


15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page