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The Generic Name is What?

October 10, 2019

If you’ve ever asked yourself how they came up with the name of the generic version of the latest wonder drug, you might enjoy this article from the AMA Journal of Ethics.

Bringing new prescription medications to market involves intense negotiation – including the naming of a drug. While pharmaceutical firms prefer easily marketable names, they must work in concert with the United States Adopted Names (USAN) Program before a drug’s release. USAN is responsible for assigning generic (nonproprietary) names to active drug ingredients.

With support from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, USAN operates as a partnership of the American Medical Association; the United States Pharmacopeial Convention; and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA).

Prior to the USAN, generic drugs were named by shortening a compound’s systematic chemical name. This protocol led to complex, cumbersome or some over-utilized names. USAN’s current protocol is taxonomy-based, pairing the chemical structure stem (or substem) and a one or two syllable prefix to distinguish the drug from others in its class. All of this is done with an eye toward patient safety. USAN’s process takes great care to avoid names that are very similar to other medications, which could lead to prescribing errors.

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