What's in a Name? Drug Nomenclature and Medicinal Chemistry Trends using INN Publications

J Med Chem. 2021 Apr 22;64(8):4410-4429. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.1c00181. Epub 2021 Apr 13.


The World Health Organization assigns international nonproprietary names (INN), also known as common names, to compounds upon request from drug developers. Structures of INNs are publicly available and represent a source, albeit underused, to understand trends in drug research and development. Here, we explain how a common drug name is composed and analyze chemical entities from 2000 to 2021. In the analysis, we describe some changes that intertwine chemical structure, newer therapeutic targets (e.g., kinases), including a significant increase in the use of fluorine and of heterocycles, and some other evolutionary modifications, such as the progressive increase in molecular weight. Alongside these, small signs of change can be spotted, such as the rise in spirocyclic scaffolds and small rings and the emergence of unconventional structural moieties that might forecast the future to come.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / trends*
  • Fluorine / chemistry
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / chemistry
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / chemistry*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism
  • Terminology as Topic*


  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Fluorine