Nomenclature. The terms active agent and pharmacon designate substances that are capable of modifying life processes irrespective of whether the effects elicited may benefit or harm the organisms concerned. By this definition, a toxin is also a pharmacon. Taken in a narrower sense, a pharmacon means a substance that is used for therapeutic purposes. An unequivocal term for such a substance is medicinal drug.
A drug can be identified by different designations:
- the chemical name
- the generic (nonproprietary) name
- a trade or brand name
The drug diazepam may serve as an illustrative example. Chemically, this compound is called 7-chloro-1,3-dihy-dro-1-methyl-5-phenyl-2H-1,4-benzo-diazepin-2-one, a term too unwieldy for everyday use. A simpler name is diaze-pam. This is not a legally protected name but a generic (nonproprietary) name. An INN (= international nonpro-prietary name) is a generic name that has been agreed upon by an international commission.
Preparations containing diazepam were first marketed under the trade name Valium by its manufacturer, Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. This name is a registered trademark. After patent protection for the manufacture of diazepam-containing drug preparations expired, other companies were free to produce preparations containing this drug. Each invented a proprietary name for its "own" preparation. As a result, there now exists a plethora of proprietary labels for diazepam preparations (as of 1991, more than 50). Some of these easily reveal the active ingredient, because the company name is simply added to the generic name, e.g., Diazepam- (company's name). Other designations are new creations, as for example, Vivol.
Similarly, some other commercially successful drugs are sold under more than 20 different brand labels. The number of proprietary names, therefore, greatly exceeds the number of available drugs.
For the sake of clarity, only INNs or generic (nonproprietary) names are used in this atlas to designate drugs, such as the name "diazepam" in the above example.
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