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Guidelines on the Use of International Nonproprietary Names (INNs) for Pharmaceutical Substances
(1997; 41 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
Open this folder and view contents1. General introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Elements in the INN system
Open this folder and view contents3. Principles for selection of INNs
View the document4. Protection of INNs
Open this folder and view contents5. How to apply for an INN
View the document6. References for supporting material
View the documentAnnex 1: Background information on the INN programme
View the documentAnnex 2: General principles for guidance in devising international nonproprietary names for pharmaceutical substances
View the documentAnnex 3: List of common stems used in the selection of INNs
View the documentAnnex 4: Specific groups of biological compounds
View the documentAnnex 5: WHA46.19 - Nonproprietary names for pharmaceutical substances
View the documentAnnex 6: Procedure for the selection of international nonproprietary names for pharmaceutical substances
View the documentAnnex 7: Applications for INNs through national authorities (addresses)
View the documentAnnex 8: INN request form

Annex 2: General principles for guidance in devising international nonproprietary names for pharmaceutical substances

1. International Nonproprietary Names (INN) should be distinctive in sound and spelling. They should not be inconveniently long and should not be liable to confusion with names in common use.

2. The INN for a substance belonging to a group of pharmacologically related substances should, where appropriate, show this relationship. Names that are likely to convey to a patient an anatomical, physiological, pathological or therapeutic suggestion should be avoided.

These primary principles are to be implemented by using the following secondary principles:

3. In devising the INN of the first substance in a new pharmacological group, consideration should be given to the possibility of devising suitable INN for related substances, belonging to the new group.

4. In devising INN for acids, one-word names are preferred; their salts should be named without modifying the acid name, e.g. “oxacillin” and “oxacillin sodium”, “ibufenac” and “ibufenac sodium”.

5. INN for substances which are used as salts should in general apply to the active base or the active acid. Names for different salts or esters of the same active substance should differ only in respect of the name of the inactive acid or the inactive base.

For quaternary ammonium substances, the cation and anion should be named appropriately as separate components of a quaternary substance and not in the amine-salt style.

6. The use of an isolated letter or number should be avoided; hyphenated construction is also undesirable.

7. To facilitate the translation and pronunciation of INN, “f” should be used instead of “ph”, “t” instead of “th”, “e” instead of “ae” or “oe”, and “i” instead of “y”; the use of the letters “h” and “k” should be avoided.

When devising an INN it is important to be aware of possible language problems . Since the name is used worldwide, not only should certain letters be avoided, but experts need to be aware of unsuitable connotations in the major languages spoken in the world.

8. Provided that the names suggested are in accordance with these principles, names proposed by the person discovering or first developing and marketing a pharmaceutical preparation, or names already officially in use in any country, should receive preferential consideration.

9. Group relationship in INN (see Guiding Principle 2) should if possible be shown by using a common stem. The following list contains examples of stems for groups of substances, particularly for new groups. There are many other stems in active use.1 Where a stem is shown without any hyphens it may be used anywhere in the name.

1 An extensive listing of stems is contained in the working document WHO/PHARM S/NOM15 which is regularly updated and can be requested from the INN Secretariat, WHO, Geneva.






anti-inflammatory agents of the ibufenac group



synthetic polypeptides with a corticotropin-like action


-adol }







antiasthmatic, antiallergic substances not acting primarily as antihistaminics






diazepam derivatives



b-lactamase inhibitors



steroids, anabolic



anti-inflammatory analgesics, phenylbutazone derivatives



antifibrillant substances with local anaesthetic activity



local anaesthetics



antibiotics, cefalosporanic acid derivatives



antibiotics, derivatives of 6-amino- penicillanic acid



Systemic antifungal agents, miconazole derivatives



corticosteroids, except prednisolone derivatives



calcium channel blockers, nifedipine derivatives



clofibrate derivatives



steroids, progestogens



sulfonamide hypoglycaemics



iodine-containing contrast media



quaternary ammonium compounds



anti-inflammatory substances, indometacin derivatives



antibiotics, produced by Streptomyces strains



antiprotozoal substances, metronidazole derivatives



b-adrenoreceptor antagonists



antibacterial agents, nalidixic acid derivatives



sulpiride derivatives



angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors



anti-inflammatory substances, ibuprofen derivatives






hypophyseal hormone release-stimulating peptides



bronchodilators, phenethylamine derivatives



histamine H2-receptor antagonists



folic acid antagonists



spasmolytics with a papaverine-like action


vin- )

vinca alkaloids


-vin- )

vinca alkaloids


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