Deciphering Generic Drug Names

Have you ever noticed there is sometimes a learning curve associated with the pronunciation of new generic drug names? Fortunately there are references which provide useful feedback about name stems (word blocks used in the construction of the generic name such as prefixes and suffixes). One such reference is the NLM Drug Information Portal which provides a comprehensive list of most official generic names such as those labelled as USAN (United States Adopted Name).

The table below is a much abbreviated excerpt from this list which reveals useful insights by breaking these often confusing names into their components parts. The table has columns for the Generic Name Stem, a Stem Definition, and an Example. Each stem has hyphens at one or both ends of its text to show that it is found at the beginning, end, or in the middle of a generic name.

StemDefinitionExamples
-abine(see -arabine, -citabine)decitabine
-acAnti-inflammatory agents (acetic acid derivatives)bromfenac; dexpemedolac
-actideSynthetic corticotropinsseractide
-afenoneAntiarrhythmics (propafenone derivatives)alprafenone; diprafenone
-afilPDE5 inhibitorstadalafil
-denosonAdenosine A receptor agoniststecadenoson; binodenoson
-ditanAntimigraine (5-HT1 receptor agonists)alniditan
-dopaDopamine receptor agonistslevodopa
-ectedinEcteinascodin derivativesmonectedin
-ectinAntiparasitics (ivermectin type)doramectin; moxidectin
-emcinalErythromycin derivatives lacking antibiotic activitymitemcinal
-entanEndothelin receptor antagonistsbosentan
-erg-Ergot alkaloid derivativespergolide
-eridineAnalgesics (meperidine type)anileridine
estr-, -estr-Estrogensestrone; fenestrel
-mabMonoclonal antibodiesimciromab; abciximab; capromab; dacliximab; dacizumab; enlimomab
-mantadine, -mantineAntivirals/antiparkinsonians (adamantane derivatives)rimantadine; dopamantine
-melineCholinergic agonists (arecoline derivatives used in treatment of Alzheimer's disease)xanomeline
-melteonSelective melatonin receptor agonistramelteon
-merPolymerscadexomer; carbetimer
-mesineSigma receptor ligandsigmesine; panamesine
-mestaneAntineoplastics (aromatase inhibitors)plomestane
-moxinMonoamine oxidase inhibitors (hydrazine derivatives)benmoxin; domoxin
-mulinAntibacterials, pleuromulin derivativesretapamulin
-multinMucosal tolerance inductorsismomultin
-mustineAntineoplastics (chloroethylamine derivatives)carmustine
-mycinAntibiotics (Streptomyces strains)lincomycin
nab-, -nab-Cannabinol derivativesnabazenil; dronabinol
-nakalantMixed sodium/potassium channel blockersvernakalant
nal-Narcotic agonists/antagonists (normorphine type)nalmefene
-nertantNeurotensin receptor antagonistsreminertant
-nesibKinesin inhibitorsispinesib
-neurinNeurotensin receptor antagonists; neurotropinsabrineurin
-nidapNonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (tenidap type)ilonidap; tenidap
-nidazoleAntiprotozoal substances (metronidazole type)tinidazole
nifur-5-nitrofuran derivativesnifuratel; nifuratrone

Information in this table has been adapted from the U. S. National Library of Medicine with information which was updated in June of 2018.