Naming of Cancer Drugs

Pharmaceutical companies sell their products under brand names or trade names.  The companies register them as trademarks. This website prefers to call medicines by their generic names.  The generic names are the ones see in the scientific literature. For instance, cisplatin is the generic name of a common chemotherapy agent, while the drug is sold under the name Platinol.  Cisplatin isn’t a scientific name by the method of how chemists name compounds. There are also alphanumerical designations in other classification schemes: the Chemical Abstracts Service, the National Cancer Institute’s Developmental Therapeutics Program (DTP) repository, and the chemical formula (C47H51NO14)

The field of medicinal chemistry has systems for naming medicines that help knowledgeable people understand something about the medicine – that something can be the medicine’s mode of action in the body, its origin, or the type of illness it affects.  Having said that, if you look at how we classify chemotherapy drugs – the taxonomy of ctx medicines – there is not complete consistency.

Monoclonal antibodies

Medicines made by a monoclonal antibody process have names ending with “mab”.  The letters immediately before mab are about the antibody’s origin. This is not referring to the organism that was used to synthesize the antibody, but to the species on which the structure of antibody was based (eg, to look like an antibody observed in mice).  “U” means human origin. “Zu” means humanized antibodies. “O” means a murine (mouse) origin. “Xi’’ refers to chimeric MABs, part human and part other species. “A” means rat origin, “e” means hamster origin. “I’ means non-human primate.  Sometimes you even see xizu which refers to a combination of humanized and chimeric chains in the molecular structure.

The third-to-last syllable is assigned based on the biological target researchers had in mind for the drug.  “Tu” and “tum” are intended for cancer. “Li” is for the immune system and “ci” is for drugs that affect the circulatory system.  Note that these designations don’t necessarily dictate what the medicine is used for in clinical practice; they were assigned early in the development of the drug.

For instance, bevacizumab has the “mab” ending which indicates it is a monoclonal antibody; it has “zu” which shows it is a humanized antibody; it has “ci” which indicates it targets the cardiovascular system. Bevacizumab is given to cancer patients, but it works by stopping growth of blood vessels.

Drug names that end in -mib and -nib

-tinib refers to tyrosine kinase inhibitors

-zomib drugs are proteasome inhibitors

-ciclib means cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors

-rafenib means BRAF kinase inhibitors

-parib means PARP inhibitors

Tinib category

Ruxolitinib

Ponatinib

Erlotinib

Alectinib

Osimertinib

Afatinib

Bosutinib

Axitinib

Ceritinib

Acalabrutinib

Sunitinib

Lenvatinib

Brigatinib

Imatinib

Neratinib

Lapatinib

Crizotinib

Cabozantinib

Ibrutinib

Dasatinib

Gefitinib

Rafenib category

Vemurafenib

Dabrafenib

Sorafenib

Regorafenib

Denib category

Enasidenib

Parib category

Olaparib

Rucaparib

Niraparib

Lisib category

Idelalisib

Copanlisib

Degib category

Sonidegib

Vismodegib

Ciclib category

Palbociclib

Ribociclib

Abemaciclib

Angiogenesis inhibitors

Drugs ending in -anib are angiogenesis inhibitors and you can see this in examples like Pazopanib and Sorafenib although some drugs that work through antiangiogenesis have other names.  For instance Bevacizumab and Ramucirumab have names denoting their monoclonal antibody origin while Thalidomide has a name from decades ago.

Others (a selection)

Drugs that end in kin are analogues to interleukin.

-rubicin refers to anti-cancer antibiotics.

Aromatase inhibitors have names ending in -mustane or -rozole.

-lutamide refer to antiandrogens.

-bulin designates mitotic inhibitors or tubulin binders.

-trexed designates antineoplastic thymidylate synthetase inhibitors.