Understanding Why One Drug Has So Many Different Names

Don't be confused by the multiple different names for the same drugs that are used to treat not only your cancer but also every other illness and disease out there.  One drug will have many different names, but it is still the same drug!

Drug names are confusing, the same drug, as it goes through the development and approval process will be given different names, usually three different names.  These names include a chemical name, a trade name and a generic name.  Despite having various names, the drugs are the same.

Why are there so many different names for the same drug? Let me explain the drug naming process, which will shed light on this issue.

A drug's first name is its chemical name.  This name derives from its molecular composition. The chemical name is often too long and too complicated to use in everyday interactions, so often it is only the researchers that use it, especially early in the development process.

The next name a drug is given is its trade name.  The trade name is given to it when it receives approval for use.   The trade name is the name under which it will be marketed.   The trade name is a propriety name owned exclusively by the drug company that owns the drug’s patent and can not be used by anyone else. 

The pharmaceutical company arbitrarily makes up trade names.  In the United States, the name has to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

The FDA is strict on granting approvals because it is concerned that drugs not be confused or mixed up with each other.  The FDA rejects about four out of every ten proposed names.

Additionally, pharmaceutical companies do not want to name their products with a name that might have some cultural bias or create any confusion with another drug prompting the FDA to reject the name.  To avoid these issues they will often make up meaningless names like Xtandi and Xofigo.

The result of this entire process means that our drugs have multiple names, all of them are meaningless and confusing, despite the efforts of the FDA to add clarity.

To help you navigate the names of the 2nd line treatments for advanced prostate cancer the following chart should help:

Trade Name                         Generic Name               Mode of AcTION

      Xgeva                                                Denosumab                                     Bone Strengthening

       Zometa                                            Zoledronic Acid                               Bone Strengthening

       Xtandi                                              Enzalutamide                                   Hormonal Blocking

       Zytiga                                              Abiraterone Acetate                         Hormonal Castrating

       Taxotere                                           Docetaxel                                         Chemotherapy Agent

       Jevtana                                           Cabazitaxel                                        Chemotherapy Agent

       Xofigo                                             Radium-223                                      Targeted Radiotherapy

       Provenge                                         Sipuleucel-T                                      Immunotherapy


 Joel T. Nowak, MA, MSW wrote this Post.  Joel is the CEO/Executive Director of Cancer ABCs.  He is a Cancer Thriver diagnosed with 5 primary cancers - Thyroid, Metastatic Prostate, Renal, Melanoma and a rare cancer, Appendiceal Cancer.