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The names of biologic and biosimilar medicines will include randomly generated four-letter suffixes, the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

The agency’s final guidance followed years of debate over whether – and how – to differentiate the nonproprietary names of these similar but non-identical medicines.  Following Thursday’s release, patient advocates generally applauded the FDA for recognizing the need for distinguishable names. Several groups also acknowledged that memorable suffixes would have been preferable.

Up until the final guidance, regulators, industry and advocates had weighed the possibility of using meaningful suffixes that represent the drug manufacturer’s name.  The names of biosimilars approved thus far reflect the FDA’s evolving ideas on the topic.  FDA explained Thursday that it ultimately opted against memorable suffixes to avoid potentially confusing name changes when drug licenses are sold from one manufacturer to another.

Under the new guidance, both existing and forthcoming biologics and biosimilars will carry four-letter suffixes.  Distinguishable names will smooth the process, including “ordering, prescribing, dispensing, record keeping and pharmacovigilance,” an FDA spokespeople explained in a call on Thursday.

The FDA has not yet determined the suffix format for interchangeable biosimilars nor offered a timeline for its decision.

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