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Why Would a Biotech Company Go the Trouble of Changing Its Name?

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to Aveo Oncology is meant to say “we are declaring to physicians and patients that we are here for you, to deliver cancer medicine,” Ha-Ngoc says. The company tagline also changed from “science, passion, impact” to “human response.” Ha-Ngoc says the tagline is supposed to have two meanings. One represents the human efforts of its employees to respond to patient needs. It’s also supposed to be a reference to Aveo’s technology platform, which is supposed to make it easier to the company to predict how a drug will perform when it enters its first human clinical trial.

Still, Aveo has narrowed its options a bit by picking a name so focused on cancer medicine, as opposed to cardiovascular medicine, autoimmune medicine, or diabetes medicine. By moving away from the more vague “pharmaceuticals” name, Aveo Oncology could end up creating another naming conundrum in the future. Ha-Ngoc says he considered that possibility, which is why he retained Aveo Pharmaceuticals as the legal name, which gives him the flexibility in the future to create other subsidiaries based on the Aveo name. Genzyme did something like this in the past with tracking stocks for various Genzyme divisions (which confused and irritated so many people that Genzyme ended up re-bundled everything back under a single Genzyme corporate name, if memory serves).

There are plenty of administrative headaches that go with this kind of change. Every business card, sign, USB flash drive, brochure, banner, pen, website and corporate document needs to be changed. In Aveo’s case, they needed to be changed fast this spring, right before the big American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, where Aveo is hoping to make a big impression.

Ha-Ngoc certainly sounded pretty happy with the name when I spoke with him last week, and I have to concede there’s good logic to it. But it also got me thinking about other name changes that were real improvements, and which ones were real duds. For fun, I thought I’d pose this question to readers. Which name changes do you think are for the better? Here are 10 examples. Just look over the list of name changes, and let me know which you think were “better” and which were “worse.”

[Updated survey results] Here are the results from the first 100 responses, which I was able to collect for free.

Old Name/New Name New Name Better Worse
Abbott Laboratories/AbbVie 1% 99%
CombinatoRx/Zalicus 43% 57%
Antigenics/Agenus 29% 71%
Aveo Pharmaceuticals/Aveo Oncology 65% 35%
Applied Molcular Genetics/Amgen 95% 5%
Microbia/Ironwood Pharmaceuticals 81% 19%
Inhale Therapeutics/Nektar Therapeutics 47% 53%
Activated Cell Therapy/Dendreon 97% 3%
Protein Design Labs/PDL Biopharma 56% 44%
Spaltudaq/Theraclone Sciences 96% 4%


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  • Jerry Jeff

    I think the name change at Microbia is a bit more complicated than that. Initially the founders were huge metalheads and used “Microbia” as an homage to then favorite band Metallica. A decade later, the founders had all reached middle age and they got more into classic rock. The new name references a never-released album by the Rolling Stones’ guitarist called “I, Ron Wood.”

  • Charles Versaggi

    What if you don’t like either name?

  • RoJones

    Survey Monkey ad?

  • OK, the results from the first 100 responses to the company name survey are in. Here’s what readers had to say about whether these biotech company name changes were better or worse.
    Old name—>New NameAbbott Laboratories—>AbbVie.   1 percent better/99 percent worse

    CombinatoRx—>Zalicus.    43 percent better/57 percent worse

    Antigenics—>Agenus.  29 percent better/71 percent worse

    Aveo Pharmaceuticals—>Aveo Oncology.    65 percent better/35
    percent worse

    Applied Molecular Genetics—>Amgen.    95 percent better/5
    percent worse

    Microbia—>Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.    81 percent better/19
    percent worse

    Inhale Therapeutics—>Nektar Therapeutics.   47 percent better/53
    percent worse

    Activated Cell Therapy—>Dendreon.   97 percent better/3
    percent worse

    Protein Design Labs—>PDL Biopharma.   56 percent better/44
    percent worse

    Spaltudaq—>Theraclone Sciences.  96 percent better/4 percent

  • Aveo Fan

    More curious than Aveo’s company name is the name chosen for their seminal product.  Tivozanib?  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.