Sorting Through the Confusion of Biologic Drug Names

Gayle Nicholas Scott, PharmD


August 19, 2016

In This Article

The 'Mabs'

Monoclonal antibody names have four segments (and usually five syllables). The first segment is the decision of the drug developer. The next segment is the target or disease class, to which a vowel may be added to allow pronunciation (Table 1). Before 2009, tumor-specific segments were used, but this practice has been discontinued because most monoclonal antibodies with oncology indications are investigated for more than one type of tumor. The third segment of the name indicates the source (eg, human, mouse) and is useful for predicting immunogenicity (Table 2). The last syllable is "mab," for "monoclonal antibody."[6]

Table 1. Target or Disease Class (Second Segment)[6]

Syllable (Vowel May Be Added) Target or Disease
b bacterial
c cardiovascular
f antifungal
k interleukin
l immunomodulator
n neuron
s bone
t tumor
v virus

Table 2. Source (Third Segment)[6]

Letter(s) Source
o Mouse
u Fully human
xi Chimeric (about two-thirds human, one-third mouse)
z Humanized (about 95% human)

Try your luck with pronouncing the mabs approved by the FDA in 2015 (Table 3).

Note that several of the names were established before the naming scheme was altered.

Table 3. Recently Approved Monoclonal Antibodies[3]

Drug Target, Source  
(Praluent®; Sanofi US and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)
Cardiovascular, fully human PCSK9 inhibitor mab for lowering LDL cholesterol
(Darzalex™; Janssen Biotech, Inc.)
Tumor, fully human ("tum" segment was replaced by "t" in the most current naming system) Mab for multiple myeloma
(Unituxin®; United Therapeutics)
Tumor, chimeric Mab for pediatric patients with neuroblastoma
(Empliciti™; Bristol-Myers Squibb)
Tumor, humanized Immunostimulatory mab for multiple myeloma
(Repatha®; Amgen Inc.)
Cardiovascular, fully human PCSK9) inhibitor mab for lowering LDL cholesterol
(Praxbind®; Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)
Cardiovascular, humanized Mab to reverse the anticoagulant effects of dabigatran
(Nucala®; GlaxoSmithKline)
Immunomodulator, humanized Interleukin-5 antagonist mab for severe asthma
(Portrazza™; Eli Lilly and Company)
Tumor, fully human ("tum" segment was replaced by "t" in the most current naming system) EGFR antagonist for metastatic squamous non-small cell lung cancer
(Cosentyx; Novartis Pharmaceuticals)
Interleukin, fully human ("kin" segment was replaced by "k" in the most current naming system) Interleukin-17A antagonist mab for psoriasis

EGFR = epidermal growth factor receptor; LDL = low-density lipoprotein; mab = monoclonal antibody; PCSK9 = proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9


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