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International nonproprietary names: more informative

The goal of a drug's International nonproprietary name (INN) is to provide information about the drug's mechanism of action or pharmacotherapeutic group. A far cry from brand names, which are designed to facilitate sales.

The brand names for Striverdi° and Relvar° mentioned in the April issue of Prescrire International are not informative.

If you turn to the article in the same issue titled "Common stem: -terol", you will find a key to understanding these drugs. Indeed, international nonproprietary names (INNs) ending in the common stem -terol indicate that the active substance is a bronchodilator that achieves this effect by stimulating beta-2 adrenoceptors.

Hiding behind the above-mentioned brand names are several INNs containing the common stem ­-terol: olodaterol and a fixed-dose combination containing vilanterol. This information alone makes it unlikely that these products are truly novel or represent a significant advance over existing treatments. Evaluation data confirms this suspicion.

Brand names are sometimes easy to remember, because their primary purpose is to facilitate sales, marketing and market penetration. INNs have a completely different purpose, which is to convey useful information about the drug's mechanism of action or its pharmacotherapeutic group. They are an aid to communication and help health professionals and patients to recognise a treatment's role in certain effects and to avoid duplicate therapy. Learning to understand common stems and using INNs when thinking about, talking about and prescribing drugs is far more useful than memorising brand names. It's a good habit to acquire, in the public interest. 

©Prescrire 1 April 2016

"The key is in the name" Prescrire Int 2016; 25 (170): 88. (Pdf, free).

Download the full review.
Pdf, free

See also:

Vilanterol + fluticasone
(Relvar Ellipta°).
Asthma and COPD:
yet another beta-2 agonist
and corticosteroid combination
Prescrire Int 2016;
25 (170): 94.
Pdf, subscribers only

(Striverdi Respimat°)
COPD: just another
beta-2 agonist
Prescrire Int 2016;
25 (170): 95.
Pdf, subscribers only

INN Common stem: -terol
Prescrire Int 2016;
25 (170): 92.
Pdf, subscribers only

The INN, a drug's
real name
healthcare policy)