Essential medicines and health products

New WHO ‘School of INN’ to strengthen International Nonproprietary Names for medicines and promote a level playing field

WHO / A. Romeo

WHO today launches the School of INN (International Non-proprietary Names). INNs are global names for medicines. They provide one reference generic name for each individual medicine that comes to market. Since 1953, the World Health Organization has named over 10 000 medicines.

The School of INN is an online platform where students of pharmacy and medicine, health professionals, scientists, drug regulators, industry, international organizations and civil society can follow short course modules and learn more about the science of drug nomenclature and what INNs do in practice.

Why are INNs important?

INN contribute to better treatment outcomes and patient safety globally and they are increasingly important as we become more globalised.

“Facilitating harmonization in the naming of medicines puts everyone on the same page,”

Mariângela Simão

For example, if a traveller with a heart condition from Indonesia runs out of medicines while in the United States, she may find that the medicine she takes does not exist in US pharmacies. That’s because in the US, her medicine is referred to with its brand name - either Norvasc or Katerzia – rather than amlodipine, its unique, global name (or INN). That’s when an INN becomes crucial, particularly for chronic conditions, as in this case. By telling the chemist that she takes amlodipine, the right medicine can be identified and dispensed to her.

Promoting a level playing field

“Facilitating harmonization in the naming of medicines puts everyone on the same page,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director General for medicines and health products. “The main aim is to ensure patients are being safely treated with the right medicine, but INNs also helps countries when they bulk-purchase medicines for their populations to identify generic suppliers of a medicine and save money.”

Ultimately, the objective of the School of INN is to promote correct and effective use of INNs in all countries and expand access to treatment.