Do Aliens from Other Planets Name Prescription Drugs?

If you watch television at all, you are bombarded with commercials for prescription drugs every day.

They start by telling you what conditions they’re for – heart disease, diabetes, eczema, arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, depression, erectile dysfunction and so on.

Then you find out their names – Entresto, Ozempic, Dupixent, Xeljanz, Humira and Latuda and Viagra.

After that, you hear another word, sometimes two.

• Entresto – Sacubitril / Valsartan.

• Ozempic – Semaglutide

• Dupixent – Dupilumab

• Xeljanz – Tofacitinib

• Humira – Adalimumab

• Latuda – Lurisadone

• Viagra — Sildenafil Citrate

I don’t know if you’re like me.

These Names Drive Me Crazy

They are not common to the English language. What are Dupixent and Xeljanz? Who came up with them?

It’s worse with the second words – Sacubitril, Dupilumab, Tofacitinib, Lurisadone and Sildenafil. Not only are these not common to the English language, no one can pronounce them.

I figured you might want to know how drug companies named their drugs. So, I decided to look into it. I went to the Internet and Google. Here is what I found.

The process of naming a drug is complicated. Sometimes It takes up to 4 years. You read that right – 4 years.

The First Step is the Drug Company Has to Come up With a Generic Name for the Drug

Each drug has the same generic name throughout the world. That is so that it can be clearly identified regardless of where it’s being distributed.

In part, there is a formula for developing a generic name. The suffix does that. The suffix is a string of letters at the end of a word.

With drugs, the suffix tells pharmacists and health care professionals how the drug works. Let me give you two examples:

  •  Adalimumab. The suffix is “Mab”. It lets pharmacists and health care professionals the drug is a monoclonal antibody. This is an antibody made from a line of cells by cloning a unique white blood cell. The “U” before “Mab” means the antibody is from a human source.
  • Tofacitinib The suffix is “Tinib.” It is an abbreviation for tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These are pills taken orally that attack certain cells while causing less damage to others. Tofacitinib targets inflammation present in rheumatoid arthritis by inhibiting the janus kinases involved in the inflammatory response pathway.

Drug manufacturers try to be a little more creative with the prefix. These have to be different from other generic names. They try to make them look and sound nice.

  • Adalmumab
    The prefix, “Adalim,” has been a family name. Orally, it sounds nice.
  • Tofacitinib
    Tofac is an abbreviation for several different things. It looks nice. It is pronounced Tow-Fuhs which is soft.

The Roman alphabet is used to create the generic name for drugs. Certain languages that use the Roman alphabet don’t have the letters Y, H, K, J, and W. These letters don’t appear in the prefix of the generic name.

Several other things are avoided in a generic name:

• The drug company’s name

• Superlative or laudatory terms about the drug to draw a person’s attention

• Medical terms

• Any implication that the drug can only be used to treat one condition. (As time passes, it may be found it is great in treating something else.)

The USAN and The WHO Need to Approve the Generic Name

When an American drug company comes up with three to six names, they submit these to the United States Adopted Names (USAN) Council. On this council are representatives from the American Medical Association (AMA), United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA).

Sometimes the USAN accepts one name. Other times, it rejects all of them and chooses a name and suggests that to the drug company.

When a final name is selected, the USAN submits it to the World Health Organization (WHO) for approval. A committee at WHO reviews the name and decides whether to accept or reject it. If the committee rejects it, it will propose a different name.

When the committee agrees on the name, that name is published on a proposed International Nonproprietary Names (INN) list.

During the next four months, the public can come forward and object to the name. If no one objects, it publishes to a recommended INN list. The drug company can start referring to the drug by its generic name.

When a pharmacy gets the drug, the pharmacist knows what the drug is supposed to do from the suffix in the generic name. When a person is taking several different medicines, the pharmacist can tell if the person may have a negative reaction because of how one might react with another.

The Process of Coming Up With a Brand Name is Different

Drug Companies are not tied to any format when coming up with brand names for the drugs they produce.

  • The names shouldn’t have mab, nib, afil or other identifiers. The names can be more creative.
  • The name should represent the drug in some way
  • It can’t make a claim as to what the drug might do.
  • It can’t promote the drug.

Drug companies works with outside firms to come up with a list of potential names. For some, this list may reach 200 names. That has to be narrowed down.

• Attorneys have to review each name to make sure each suggested name is totally unique.

• The name should translate well into as many languages as possible. The drug company does not want the name to mean something inappropriate or embarrassing in a certain language.

Remember the “Got Milk?” Ads here in the US. They could not be used in Spanish speaking countries because “Got Milk” in Spanish translates to “Are you lactating?

• Research is done to make sure the names don’t look or sound like those of other drugs.
• Surveys are done to see how others, including medical professionals, respond to the suggested names.

As this process goes on, the suggested names are being whittled down. The drug company is trying to get down to 2 or 3.

For drugs developed here in America, the name has to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Only one name can be submitted to it at a time.

Next, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) needs to approve the name. Only two names can be submitted to it at a time.

Once the name is approved by the FDA and the EMA, the drug company can start to market the drug This entire process may take 2 or 3 years.

This Process Was Far More Complex Than I Thought

When I started my research, I began to understand the process of naming drugs was far more complex than I ever thought.

I had no idea that it might take 4 years for a company to come up with a name for a specific drug. I also didn’t know they typically might have a list of 200 possible names.

One thing that still bugs me is . . .

. . . Why the Names They Finally Settle on Are So Strange.

Give me a break. As much as 4 years and they come up with a name no one can pronounce,

They could have chosen better names than Entresto, Ozempic, Dupixent, Humira and Latuda. If these were the best on the lists of all the suggested names they had for these drugs, how bad were the others?

Maybe drug companies need common people like you and me to come up with suggested names for the new drugs they’re working on.

You’ll notice I omitted mentioning one drug from my last list above. That is Viagra. The person who came up with that said the first two letters, “vi’ would remind people of the word, vigorous. The “agra” would remind people of the power of the Niagara river. The word, Viagra, would resonate on a subconscious level with men.


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