January 9, 2020

How Do They Come Up With Those Drug Names?

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How Do They Come Up With Those Drug Names?

Macugen. Lucentis. Avastin. Eylea. Beovu.

All of those are anti-VEGF drugs prescribed for treatment of wet AMD and other conditions involving growth and leakage of new blood vessels in the retina. Those brand names appear in articles and ads, but rarely in eye specialists’ notes and prescription orders. Such names are designed mainly for public use, as they are easier to remember and spell than their professional generic names. Respectively, the generic names for the above drugs are:

pegaptanib. ranibizumab. aflibercept. bevacizumab. brolucizumab.

(Notice that generic names are not capitalized, while brand names are.)

A drug’s generic name must be assigned and approved by the United States Adopted Names Council (USAN) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The name must be clear and concise, and it may be similar to related drugs to assist in its identification. For example, word endings common to anti-VEGF drugs are “-anib”, “-bercept”, and “-umab”. Letters in the middle of the name can also carry a message, like “-ci”, meaning that the drug targets the circulatory system. Sometimes, the prefix may also have something to tell. “Peg-” at the beginning, for instance, means that a substance in the drug has added polyethylene glycol. Generally, though, prefixes mean nothing. They serve simply to differentiate one drug from another.

So generic names for drugs are meaningful to professionals and are well-regulated globally. Brand names, however, need not follow rules other than being memorable and sounding appropriate. A brand name will most likely come from an ad company or a brainstorming session with a few corporate employees. It could contain an anagram, a reverse-spelling, an acronym, a word-combination, an abbreviation, or maybe even someone’s name. Some smart companies relate the name of a drug to its target treatment, which helps people remember their product by association. Latin, not surprisingly, tends to be the favored language.

How, then, did the specific brand names Macugen, Lucentis, Avastin, Eylea, and Beovu come to be? After a bit of detective work, here are some educated guesses:

Macugen: combination of “macula” (central retina) and an abbreviation of “genesis” (formation of something, e.g. blood vessels).

Lucentis: combination of “lucent” (a medical term for a pale area revealed under examination) and “centis” (Latin for “puncture”, e.g. by a syringe).

Avastin: combination of “avast” (from early Dutch “hou’vast” (“hold fast”) and “-in” (a suffix common to anti-inflammatory drugs).

Eylea: combination of “eye” (as in “eyeball”) and “lea”, derived from “lux” (Latin for “light”).

Beovu: combination of “beo” (Latin for “life”) and “vu” (Latin for “see”).

This may be of interest only to etymologists, aspiring pharmacologists, curious patients, or prospective parents looking for baby names. At the very least, it may help to explain the reasoning behind those mysterious labels.

Dan Roberts
Editor-in-Chief
Prevent Blindness

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