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Why Are Drugs Getting Such Weird Brand Names?

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to a scientific audience that it was a hybrid compound with two ways of working, and that it looked and sounded like “vitality.” The part that made it sound like a hybrid is important to physicians who are used to seeing depression drugs that are pretty much all alike, while the “vitality” part sounds good to a patient who wants help with depression.

If you are Seattle Genetics, and selling a new drug for Hodgkin’s disease and other rare, deadly lymphoma, you don’t really need to appeal to the consumer masses. That’s partly why the company settled on “Adcetris” for its new drug. The thinking was that for physician/scientists, starting the name with the letters ADC would call to mind the drug’s scientific origins as an antibody drug conjugate. That’s a jargon term that Seattle Genetics has used for years to describe its technique of linking, or “conjugating” an antibody to a toxin that makes the drug more potent.

I’ve written about antibody drug conjugates for years, and personally didn’t get the ADC connection at first glance. And I joked with Bruce Seeley, Seattle Genetics’ executive vice president of commercial operations, that I accidentally typed “Adcentris” a couple times before I could get the spelling right. It didn’t seem to bug him—he said the team at Seattle Genetics is happy that the FDA agreed to allow “Adcetris” to stand.

“I’ve named quite a few products in my history, and it’s increasingly difficult to find an attractive name that doesn’t sound like something else, or have a patient safety issue associated with it,” Seeley says. “We’re very fortunate.”

I thought it would be fun to comb through a list of recent names of drugs that have been FDA approved, or newly coined by the manufacturers, to give you a chance to weigh in on which ones you like, and which ones you don’t. There are 18 new drugs listed in the chart below. Below the chart, you can vote on the best and worst names in the bunch. Of course, you’re also welcome to leave your comments at the bottom of this story, too. This is an entirely unscientific poll, but it seems like fun. Who knows, if this exercise uncovers some fun new facts or insights, I might even share the results in a future BioBeat column. That is, so long as all these drug names haven’t already put you to sleep.

Scientific nameBrand Name DiseaseCompany
telaprevirIncivekHepatitis CVertex Pharmaceuticals
boceprevirVictrelisHepatitis CMerck
brentuximab vedotinAdcetrisHodgkin’s diseaseSeattle Genetics
abirateroneZytigaProstate cancerJohnson & Johnson
cabazitaxelJevtanaProstate cancerSanofi-Aventis
belimumabBenlystaLupusHuman Genome Sciences
denosumabProliaOsteoporosisAmgen
denosumabXgevaCancer-related bone fracturesAmgen
sipuleucel-TProvengeProstate CancerDendreon
gabapentin enacarbilHorizantRestless Legs SyndromeXenoport
gabapentinGralisePostherpetic neuralgiaDepomed
peginterferon alfa-2bSylatronMelanomaMerck
ipilimumabYervoyMetastatic melanomaBristol-Myers Squibb
ibuprofen and famotidineDuexisOsteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritisHorizon Pharma
tocilizumabActemraRheumatoid arthritisRoche
roflumilastDalirespChronic Obstructive Pulmonary DiseaseForest Laboratories
vilazodoneViibrydDepressionClinical Data
azilsartan medoxomilEdarbiHypertensionTakeda Pharmaceuticals

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23 responses to “Why Are Drugs Getting Such Weird Brand Names?”

  1. David Goldfarb says:

    Amen, brother. As a pharma marketer, it seems to me the objective is to occupy a space in the mind of the prescriber on the way to “top of mind in the category.” Being uniquely odd just isn’t aiming high enough. One suspects that professional namers are simply keyboarding parameters into a program, letting it run and editing out the candidates with no vowels at all. Does this work? Sure. But naming could be done so much better.

  2. Drum roll please….the votes are in on the best and worst drug names. Here are the top 10 worst names, as selected by you the readers by 6 pm Eastern/3 pm Pacific time.

    Worst:
    Xgeva….27
    Yervoy…20
    Edarbi…16
    Viibryd..10
    Incivek…8
    Zytiga….5
    Duexis….5
    Daliresp..5
    Actemra…4
    Victrelis.4
    Jevtana…3
    Adcetris..2
    Provenge..2
    Horizant..2
    Gralise….2
    Sylatron..2

    I’ll add another comment for the names you voted in as the best.

  3. Here are the votes for the best drug names:

    Best:
    Provenge…39
    Benlysta…27
    Prolia…..21
    Incivek….10
    Horizant….9
    Victrelis…8
    Viibryd…..7
    Adcetris….5
    Yervoy……4
    Actemra…..4

    The polls are now closed. SurveyMonkey wants me to pay for more results, and since this was just for fun, I’m not going to. I’m not sure what to conclude here, other than we have a lot of Dendreon fans stuffing the ballot box, like many probably will for Ichiro at this year’s All-Star game. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Ellen M Martin says:

    Viibryd sounds like a new humanoid species in a science fiction universe…

  5. i also voted for Provenge as the one i like most because its an action name..the revenge of of the prostate to ward off cancer cells.easier for the doctors to recall and “feel good” for patients.I dont like Galise because in the Philippines Galis is a stubborn wound.It should avoid this connotation if it wants to gain a good international brand image.Overall thank you for the mental exercise.

    • waaa says:

      In fact, it sounds like proactive revenge. Vengeance carried out even before the need for re-venge.

  6. LJ says:

    It is Gralise, not Galise. And it is now Depomed’s, not Abbott’s.

  7. LJ—good catch, thanks. After writing this, I also realize I forgot a few drugs that would have been fun to include in the mix. I’m thinking of Arena Pharmaceuticals’ lorcaserin (Lorqess) for obesity, Orexigen Therapeutics’ combination of naltrexone and bupropion (Contrave) for obesity, Amylin Pharmaceuticals exenatide once-weekly (Bydureon) for diabetes, and Optimer Pharmaceuticals’ fidaxomicin (Dificid) for C. difficile infections.

  8. Completely agree. Naming products in the pharma space is so much more cpmplex as there are even more criteria to consider beyond brand image and the basic marketing criteria. All the good ones are taken. Not surprised about the results of the poll. The best names are still easy to pronounce and spell. Even in pharma.

    Nice post. Well done.

  9. Leonard Drake says:

    I am baffled by half of the names of the newer medications being advertised: Yaz, Beyaz, Lyrica, et al. When I think of “Lyrica,” I think of someone or something singing. “Lyrica” has no relation to fibromyalgia, but then again, the name Tylenol doesn’t “scream” headache, either.

    And Yaz? Ever since problems were reported with Yaz we can “BE Yaz?” What the….?

  10. camerique says:

    tocilizumab, denosumab, ipilimumab… how about yabbadabbadomobabababy?

  11. waaa says:

    Lets be sensitive, there’s been a lot of violence in the Edarbi region lately…

  12. DontCopALatuda says:

    New drug names are making me furious!! The fury began with Latuda. (????) WhoTF came up with that gem? Need to adjust adjust your la-atti-tuda?!? I hate it, I hate it so much. I hate it beyond words. It makes my head ache. Next, I heard (and also hated) Januvia. Is that Latuda’s sister? WTF?!? Just heard an ad for Harvoni. Reeeaally?? Huh, that must be Victoza’s brother. WhoTF is naming this f’d up family?!? You can’t be serious. These are the stupidest, most annoying drug names in the history of drug names. I don’t care what ailment I develop, I’d rather suffer with whatever-it-is than take one of these absurdly, asininely, ridiculously named drugs. Really, I won’t take them based on their names alone. I won’t, I will not… ever.
    Wait…. Will any of these meds prevent a stroke?!?!? Merely hearing them is about to give me one.

  13. Stephen Hale says:

    So, in other words, it’s a fu@k story. I have never been able to pronounce my Omeprazole with success and know I know it’s some stupid fu@k making $hit up. It makes me want to throw up. The Pharm colleges need to create an atmosphere where they become adjudicate. These fu@kers make me want to puke.

  14. Stephen Hale says:

    Pharm guys, we get your acumen and your education. You don’t need to confuse old people with legitimist prognition and pretend BULLSHIT. God, where the days when honest men and women tried to help people, when the learned tried to heal, when self advancing men and women loved to be helpful. GODD DAMN YOU ALL. You are a blight on this civilization. Money hungry FUCKS.

  15. Eric Schrader says:

    I hate these effing names. The drug companies think they’re so cute. Some A-hole stays up all night thinking of this crap.

  16. 2AshlinPoplin says:

    Useful comments – I learned a lot from the analysis – Does anyone know where my company could possibly locate a blank a form document to fill in ?

  17. Kang Dindu says:

    Forgive the rimjob I’m about to give you, but this is a very well written article and I wish all people would write like this.

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