I realize I may be at risk of sounding like an older cynical physician; however, is it just me or do the brand names of some new medicines sound like they could double for names of new models of cars?  Some of them could even be trendy new names for children.

I have also noted with names of newer medicines that there is essentially no connection between the name and the function of the medication.  Based on the name alone it is essentially impossible to infer whether a medication is used to treat diabetes, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or rheumatoid arthritis.

This led me to review the process of naming medications coming to market, which is actually a quite complicated process.  The following is a brief glimpse into some of the structure of the  process.  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that from 2000 to 2009, approximately 126,000 medication errors were reported to the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), some of which were directly related to the similar sound and appearance of drug-named pairs.  Due to this excessive amount of errors, a number of which were caused by postmarketing nomenclature-related events, the CDER developed new internal procedures for evaluating, prior to marketing, the potential for a proposed brand name to contribute to or cause medication errors.

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The Division of Medication Error Prevention and Analysis or (DMEPA) is a division of the CDER that conducts safety review of the proprietary or potential brand name.  Another division within the CDER is the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC), which evaluates proposed band names to determine if they are overly fanciful, so as to misleadingly imply unique effectiveness or composition, as well as to assess whether they contribute to the overstatement of efficacy of the product and to make sure the name does not contribute to unsubstantiated superiority claims. 

This would explain why there are no longer names such Neurontin, Augmentin, or Proair, as just a few examples.   Generic names now make more sense as they at least have a stem or common part of a word as the other members of the group, giving us a hint into what class of medicine it may be.   These names are reviewed by the United States Adopted Name (USAN) counsel, and further  information on the evaluation of medication names can be found at fda.gov.

This is, of course, just scratching the surface of why the names of medications in our armamentarium are odder than ever and make it pretty much impossible to imply their indication.   Basically, the reasons for names not making any sense are twofold: one is for safety, to avoid similar-sounding medication names that could cause confusion, and the second is the relation of the name to marketing and its function.

Given that the number of medications to market continues to grow, you can rest assured there will be plenty of new medication names to remember (or make fun of) in the years to come.